Former Registered Nurse Sentenced To Six Years’ Imprisonment For Health Care Fraud
HARRISBURG – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced today that Joan Cicchiello, age 67, of Annville and Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, was sentenced on May 9, 2018, to 72 months’ imprisonment and three years of supervised release by United States District Court Judge John E. Jones, II on Health Care Fraud related charges.
According to United States Attorney David J. Freed, Cicchiello, a licensed Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner and Registered Nurse who is certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was indicted in October 2016, and charged with one count of Health Care Fraud, thirty-seven counts of making false statements related to health care matters, and one count of obstruction of a federal audit.
Cicchiello was the owner and operator of Twilight Beginnings, located in Mount Carmel, that provided mental health services. Cicchiello used her company to recruit individuals who were either not properly licensed or unlicensed and have them “provide” psychiatric care to patients. Despite the fact that Cicchiello knew these individuals were not trained, licensed nor authorized to provide these psychiatric related services, Cicchiello directed that they meet with elderly residents of nursing homes throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as with adolescents seeking psychiatric care at her Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania office. These individuals, whom Cicchiello referred to as her “counselors,” included a retired chiropractor, a convicted felon whose clinical social worker license was suspended, and numerous other unqualified individuals.
Cicchiello directed these individuals provide to her with a listing of the patients they met. Cicchiello then utilized these lists to falsely bill the Medicare program as though she, a properly licensed and trained practitioner, personally provided face-to-face psychotherapy related services to the adolescent and elderly patients.
Additionally, Cicchiello created false documents representing that her “counselors” were properly trained and licensed. Cicchiello provided these false documents to the Medicare program as well as nursing homes and personal care homes throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania. Cicchiello falsely billed the Medicare program when she claimed she was providing psychotherapy to patients in Pennsylvania when, in fact, she was vacationing in such locations as Las Vegas, Russia, Denmark, London, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Scotland and Ireland. Cicchiello directed her employees to create false psychiatric progress notes documenting care never provided by her to patients while she was traveling abroad.
Prior to rendering sentence, Judge Jones commented that the fraud was of a particularly disturbing nature and had many moving parts. Not only did she falsely bill Medicare and created false licenses for her employees, but her scheme preyed upon the elderly, the disabled and the infirm by using individuals who are unqualified to provide counseling and psychotherapy services in every way. These “services” were provided by such individuals as a licensed clinical social worker whose license was suspended based upon two prior felony drug convictions, an 80- year-old chiropractor, and a convicted Megan’s Law offender. Judge Jones also noted that Cicchiello ran her business out of an abandoned church in Mt. Carmel and organized it as a charity.
Judge Jones also ordered that Cicchiello be immediately remanded into custody, pay restitution to the Medicare program in the amount of $152,122, a $150,000 fine, and the moneys previously seized by the government, in bank accounts owned and/or controlled by her that were proceeds of her false and fraudulent billings she submitted to Medicare.
“This brazen fraud was compounded by the fact that it was perpetrated on some of our most vulnerable citizens,” said United States Attorney Freed. “The hard-working agents of HHS-OIG and the FBI should be commended for their tireless work on this investigation. The outstanding efforts of these investigators resulted in appropriate punishment for the offender, recovery of taxpayer funds and the opportunity for the victims to receive the legitimate help that they need.”
“The Medicare program exists to provide health care services to the most vulnerable members of our society-the elderly and disabled,” said Maureen R. Dixon, Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General. “Ms. Cicchiello actions show she valued money over the health and safety of her elderly, disabled and adolescent patients. HHS- OIG Special Agents and our law enforcement partners will continue to work tirelessly to hold such individuals accountable for these types of actions.”
"It's not enough that this defendant fleeced the taxpayers in stealing money from Medicare," said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. "What's truly despicable is the manner in which she did so. Her sham mental health clinic put many vulnerable patients at risk, while she was pocketing the payments for personal gain. Proper mental health treatment can be life-changing. Sadly, so can sub-standard care."
The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the US Department of Health and Human Services, Harrisburg Field Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Williamsport Resident Agency. Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph J. Terz and Chelsea B. Schinnour prosecuted the case.