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Couple arrested for allegedly exploiting homeless to steal over $500,000 from MassHealth



WOBURN – A Chelmsford couple was arrested today in connection with a large and complex scheme to falsely bill the state’s Medicaid program (MassHealth) that involved exploiting homeless individuals, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.

John Wachira, age 52, and Joanne Wachira, age 60, both of Chelmsford, were indicted on December 9 by a Statewide Grand Jury. They were arrested today in Lowell by Massachusetts State Police assigned to the AG’s Office. Their company, Petra Health Care, LLC, was also indicted on Monday. All three defendants were charged with Medicaid False Claims (3 counts each), Larceny Over $1,200 (2 counts each), and Medicaid Kickbacks (1 count each). They will be arraigned in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn later today.

The Wachiras operate Petra Health Care, a home health care company that provides in-home health services to patients. The AG’s Office alleges that from July 2015 through December 2017, the Wachiras recruited at least 10 homeless individuals to live in their house rent-free, but required them, as a condition of their housing, to be MassHealth members and sign up to receive Petra’s purported home health care services. Those staying in the house were then allegedly required to sign false timesheets indicating that services like bathing, assistance getting dressed, and medication reminders, were being provided (even though they were not), or were at risk of being removed from the house.

“We allege that these defendants took advantage of homeless individuals in order to steal from the state’s healthcare system,” said AG Healey. “Fighting home health care fraud is a priority for our Medicaid Fraud Division.”

The AG’s Office alleges that the Wachiras and their company did not actually provide many of those services, despite billing MassHealth for them. In total, the AG’s Office alleges that the defendants fraudulently obtained $543,542.19 from MassHealth as a result of the scheme.

In 2019, the AG’s Office has secured six convictions and recovered more than more $12 million from MassHealth relating to fraud in the home health program. In May 2019 and August 2018, juries convicted the owners of home health care agencies in connection with different schemes to steal millions from MassHealth. Both owners are currently serving time associated with those convictions. In April 2019, two home health care companies paid over $10 million to resolve allegations of submitting false claims to MassHealth and in August 2019, another home health care company paid $1.95 million to resolve similar allegations.

The AG’s Office has previously taken action against Petra and the Wachiras in an unrelated matter. In 2018, they paid more than $217,000 in restitution and penalties to resolve allegations by the AG’s Fair Labor Division that the company failed to pay employees for overtime and travel time.

This case is being handled by Managing Attorney Kevin Lownds, Assistant Attorney General William Champlin IV, Senior Healthcare Fraud Investigator Robert Ames, and Investigators Shelby Stephens and Alexander Afonso, all of AG Healey’s Medicaid Fraud Division. MassHealth, the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the AG’s Office, the Digital Evidence Lab of the AG’s Office, and the Office of the Inspector General provided assistance during the investigation.

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