Fraud of the Month – Nov.

Sami Anwar’s crimes seem especially offensive in the midst of a global pandemic. He was sentenced to more than 28 years in prison for 47 counts of fraud and drug-related charges. His crime? Injecting fake clinical trial data into the public health system.

Sami Anwar lived in Richland, Wash. — a city of about 60,000 people situated 30 miles north of the Oregon border. This is where Anwar opened two bogus clinical practices, Zain Research LLC and Mid Columbia Research LLC, in 2013. 

He hired doctors and other medical professionals to carry out the fraudulent research. Once he was up and running, Anwar convinced pharmaceutical companies to award him millions in funding for human trial experimental drug testing. Anwar won contracts to study a wide range of diseases including: diabetes, asthma, heart disease, adolescent smoking, cirrhosis, scabies, depression and opioid addiction. 

Anwar is not a licensed medical doctor, so he regularly forged the signatures of the doctors he employed to carry out his scheme. More than a dozen of Anwar’s former employees testified against him at trial — telling jurors that Anwar directly instructed them to fabricate medical records and data to make participants eligible for study. Anwar forced his employees to submit blood samples he would later include in his data sets or stole blood samples from unsuspecting patients in his facility’s care. He also flushed meds as a means of accounting for properly dispensed drugs and falsified subject diary entries. Anwar also hoarded the opioids that were intended for his subjects.

His con began to unravel by the end of 2016 when Anwar conned his way into trials for hydrocodone and morphine meds in November of that year with Braeburn and Medpace. Anwar forged the signature of a doctor and submitted his own cell number rather than the doctors when Braeburn and Medpace requested contact information for the doctor.

Roughly 6 months later, Mid Columbia Research applied for another study — this time investigating the use of GHB to treat narcolepsy. Anwar forged the same doctor’s signature to apply for participation. By September 2017, the doctor had become aware of Anwar’s forgery, and personally contacted Braeburn to withdraw the application. That month would get worse for Anwar. 

Medpace discovered irregularities in subject binders and other documents during a routine site visit September 2017. Medpace also received a call from a Mid Columbia whistleblower that month, alerting them to the shady practices happening at the Richland facility. The study was shut down the following month.

Anwar threatened his employees repeatedly in order to continue the scheme and avoid suspicion from the drug companies funding his research, the FDA and law enforcement. His intimidation tactics knew no bounds. Anwar filed false police reports; lodged formal complaints with the Washington State Department of Health and the FDA; slashed vehicle tires; and stalked the individuals that he believed to be cooperating with the authorities.

His fear campaign bought him a few more months, but the walls were closing in on him. The DEA raided his facility in January 2018. They found nearly 600 hydrocodone pills stashed inside a plastic baggie inside his desk. He was charged and convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud, and 45 additional charged crimes including Wire Fraud, Mail Fraud, Obtaining Controlled Substances Through Fraud, and Furnishing False Information to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Instead of caring for Carl, Paolo abused him so mercilessly that he slid into malnourishment and death. He spent his final weeks imprisoned in her dank home basement without water, sunlight or fresh air. All the while, Paolo falsely billed Medicaid nearly $107,000 for care she denied to Carl.

Investigators found Carl’s body encased in concrete, hidden in a storage shed after his life ebbed away, weakened from steady abuse. 

Stopped giving his medicines

As the professional manager of Second Chance Homes, Paulo provided care to residents and oversaw day-to-day operations. Paulo was also responsible for taking DeBrodie to medical appointments, and giving him meal supplements and medicines his doctor prescribed.

Carl struggled to maintain a healthy weight as Paolo continued denying him his supplements and medicines. She stopped taking to Carl to the doctor, while falsifying medical and Second Chance Homes records to cover for Carl’s not receiving treatment.

Paolo finally moved him to an unfinished basement in her home in September 2016 to avoid prying investigators who might discover his declining health. Carl’s condition was so bad “he would lie in bed howling,” federal prosecutors said at Paolo’s trial.

He continued deteriorating. All the while Paolo kept billing Medicaid for phantom services. She falsified medical documents — including descriptions of Carl enjoying snacks and dancing to music. 

Desperately weakened, Carl finally suffered an acute medical emergency in Paolo’s basement. 

Paulo had DeBrodie’s housemate carry him to an upstairs bathroom and place him under running water. Carl stopped breathing. Paolo was worried she’d be blamed for his malnourishment and death. So she didn’t help Carl, even though she knew CPR and first aid. Nor did she call for help. 

Housemate blew the whistle

Carl just slipped away. Paolo kept his remains in a bathtub for several days. She finally placed him in a trash can, filled it with concrete and drove his body to the storage shed. 

Police investigated Carl’s disappearance. Paolo told family members, who worked with her at Second Chance, to lie that they saw him at an Easter celebration. Eventually one of Carl’s earlier housemates gave investigators enough clues to discover his death and maltreatment.

Paolo was handed 17 1/2 years in federal prison, and owes the nearly $107,000 to Medicaid. Several family members who worked under her at Second Chance also were convicted.

Carl’s former guardian Mary Martin wants people to remember the real Carl, as he was in better days. “He literally was a happy camper,” she told the court. 

Here’s how the failed bribery attempt went down:

Lindberg began buying insurance companies in 2014, with a particular interest in the large amount of assets insurance companies held in order to satisfy claims. He then used those purchased companies’ existing assets to provide loans to other companies he controlled — totalling an estimated $2 billion. Much of these “loans” were used to expand his personal holdings.

Lindberg’s first insurance acquisition was an Alabama burial policy insurer. But Lindberg could not loan out the volume of assets he intended under Alabama state law. This did not discourage Lindberg, who relocated the business and its assets to North Carolina. He then established a relationship with the state’s insurance commissioner Wayne Goodwin. He struck a deal with Goodwin’s administration to lend 40% of his burial policy assets to affiliated business ventures rather than the customary 10%.

Under this special arrangement, Lindberg rapidly expanded his acquisition efforts. The profitability of his financial services businesses — which were the loan recipients — surged. During this expansion period, Lindberg became a prolific donor in North Carolina politics. His financial patronage was largely directed towards Goodwin, a Democrat, and Republican lawmakers from 2016 to 2018.

Lindberg’s business model unsustainable

Lindberg’s “unique” business model was unsustainable. He often exceeded the 40% arrangement he had with the Department of Insurance. Regulators began to worry that the businesses he was acquiring and leveraging couldn’t meet their claim obligations.

In late 2017 Lindberg and an associate approached the North Carolina GOP Chair, Robin Hayes. They asked for a meeting with the new North Carolina insurance commissioner, Mike Causey. He’d narrowly defeated Goodwin in the General Election.

Lindberg pitched Causey on a plan to replace Causey’s deputy, Jackie Obusek, with Lindberg’s associate in exchange for large sums of cash contributions to Causey’s campaign account. Lindberg was upset with Obusek, who was reigning in Lindberg’s asset acquisition and diversion enterprise that had grown his personal net worth from $340 million in 2013 to $1.7 billion in 2017.

The unsettling bribe proposition prompted Causey to contact federal law enforcement. Causey agreed to wear a wire for the FBI to record Lindberg’s bribery attempts. During the operation, Lindberg donated $250,000 to the North Carolina GOP to be steered toward Causey with Hayes’ assistance.

Firms placed in receivership

A federal grand jury indicted Lindberg and his co-conspirators in March 2019. By this time, Lindberg had acquired more than 100 companies. However, his acquisition run had come to an end — with the insurance department  placing several of his companies in receivership due to liquidity concerns. That same year Gov. Roy Cooper signed what was commonly known as the “Lindberg bill,” which formally capped asset loans to affiliated loans at 10%.

Lindberg went to trial in February 2020 and was convicted by a jury on conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and bribery. Causey was sentenced in August to more than seven years in prison.

Lindberg sought a lenient sentence. U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn wouldn’t hear of it.

“What kind of deterrence are we going to have if millionaires are allowed to pay seven-figure bribes?” Cogburn told the courtroom.

“We have a serious breach of the law. We’ve got to deter people who think it’s a good idea to bribe officials in North Carolina.”

About the author: Jim Quiggle is senior director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

“18 hr hostile takeover. Became POW, during this tour. Beaten, shot, head injury, tortured. Hospitalized in Germany for injuries sustained. Crushed hand. Shrapnel,” the Chalfont, Pa. man wrote in applying for federal veterans medical benefits.

The physical and emotional trauma were overwhelming, he wrote. Meleski claimed he had post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries during his life-and-death escape from the supposed terrorists back in the 1980s.

Yet none of it happened. Meleski invented the elaborate fairytale to steal nearly $300,000 in healthcare treatment and $2,271 in prescription medicines from the Veterans Administration. His haul included monthly disability checks.

His scam is called Stolen Valor — inventing or embellishing military service.

Never served in military

In fact Meleski never served a day in the military. He lived in New Jersey during his claimed Beirut heroics.

Meleski took pains to invent convincing details. He injured his left knee jumping out of a window carrying a dead SEAL comrade on his back, he said. On top of that, Meleski said he suffered a traumatic brain injury when he leapt through the window.

The ordeal was so traumatic that he couldn’t speak for three months, he insisted.

Meleski even was awarded the Silver Star for his gallantry in action, he lied.

The story was convincing enough. As a former POW supposedly suffering from PTSD, Meleski was given priority over real veterans for healthcare. He received free treatment with no copays or premiums.

Meleski used the same phony military record to steal Social Security disability benefits. To lend that story credibility, Meleski included the obituaries of real Navy SEALs he lied that he served with.

Convicted of arson

While living in New Jersey during his claimed Beirut heroics, Meleski carved yet another trail of crime. He was convicted of arson four times, receiving 19 years total in prison. In one case, he set fire to a home where a priest and several nuns devoted their lives to solitary prayer.

Up to 68 years in federal prison awaits Meleski when he’s sentenced for his latest crime.

“Meleski faked a record as a decorated U.S. Navy SEAL in order to steal numerous forms of compensation,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said.

“Everything about this case is profoundly offensive. Our veterans fought for the freedoms we hold dear, and we owe them a debt that we can never fully repay. But holding individuals like Meleski accountable for their crimes is one small way that we can honor our veterans’ service.”

About the author: Arinze Ifekauche is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.


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