Doctor pleads guilty to Medicaid fraud

Herrera could get 18 months in jail as part of agreement

Ellicott City

March 07, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg and Andrea F. Siegel | Lisa Goldberg and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Ellicott City pediatrician pleaded guilty to felony Medicaid fraud yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court as part of an agreement that could send him to jail for a year and a half.

As part of the same agreement, the attorney general's office dropped three counts of tax perjury against Dr. Alfredo Herrera yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

The plea agreement, entered into the record in Howard County yesterday, brings to a close the two criminal cases against the well-known pediatrician, who has been an activist against reckless driving since the death of his 16-year-old son in 1994.

Herrera, 53, was accused last fall of lying on his 1996, 1997 and 1998 tax returns and last week of performing $100,000 in tests that were not "medically necessary" over 5 1/2 years, from 1993 to 1998.

Herrera's lawyer, Richard D. Bennett of Miles & Stockbridge, noted that the plea has "nothing to do with the level of care he's given his patients."

"Dr. Herrera's been an outstanding member of the community in Howard County," Bennett said. "He made a mistake, and he acknowledged his mistake."

In Howard County Circuit Court yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Catherine Schuster Pascale said Herrera performed tests for strep throat on children who weren't sick and once performed a breathing capacity test on a child who had visited him for a "lazy eye" condition.

He also performed an ear test on a child suffering from dry skin on his face and often billed for more expensive levels of service when he saw a child for a few minutes, Pascale said. In some cases, Pascale said, the children's parents said the tests billed to Medicaid were never performed on their children.

The investigation began after the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene noticed that Herrera was billing for more tests and more office visits per patient than his peers, Pascale said. The case involves visits with about 250 patients.

Sentencing is scheduled April 11.

Under the plea agreement, Herrera could receive a three-year jail term with all but 18 months suspended and three years' probation. Defense attorneys can argue for home detention instead of jail, but the state plans to oppose that request, according to the agreement.

Herrera must also pay $200,000 in restitution to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene - twice the fraud amount.

In Anne Arundel County, he was accused of lying on his taxes by claiming personal expenses as business expenses, such as the addition of a sun porch and sauna to his home and a trip to the World Cup in 1998.

According to the plea agreement, Herrera must also file amended tax returns for 1996 through 1998 and pay money owed.

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