A pair of Miami-Dade doctors — orthopedic surgeon Lawrence Alexander and chiropractor Dean Zusmer — were convicted Monday of participating in a ring of medical device companies that submitted more than $31 million in false bills to Medicare for orthopedic devices. were performed which were not required by the patients.
A federal jury in Miami convicted Alexander, 45, of making false statements about his durable medical device company on a Medicare enrollment application and Zusmer, 54, of fraud by submitting false claims through his durable medical device company, which he claimed also managed.
The doctors collaborated with other businessmen, including two who have pleaded guilty and one who is on the run, in a plot involving four Florida durable medical device companies. Those four companies, located in Miami-Dade, Broward and Pinellas counties, were partly owned by Jeremy Waxman, a Miami-Dade businessman who pleaded guilty and testified against the doctors during the trial. Alexander had a stake in one of those durable medical device companies, and Zusmer in another.
Justice Department lawyers claimed that the network of medical device companies relied on marketing firms that recruited Medicare patients and received kickbacks in an elaborate telemedicine scheme. Medicare, the federal insurance program for seniors, paid four companies a total of $15 million based on fraudulent claims for orthopedic devices, juries determined after a two-week trial.
The durable medical equipment plot is reminiscent of Medicare scams in South Florida in the 1990s, before it spread to other areas of medicine, such as physical therapy, diabetes injections and mental health services.
Both Alexander and Zusmer, who were out on bail before trial but were taken into custody after their sentencing, on April 20, US District Judge K. Michael will face a prison sentence at a sentencing hearing before Moore. Alexander is expected to receive a much shorter prison term than Zusmer. Whatever their sentence, both defendants plan to appeal the verdict.
According to trial evidence, Zusmer cooperated with Waxman through their joint ownership and management of Active Assist DME in Pinellas County.
Justice Department attorneys claimed that Zusmer and Waxman obtained signed referrals from doctors by paying kickbacks to marketing companies that used foreign call centers to solicit patients. He also paid kickbacks to telemedicine companies that obtained prescriptions for unnecessary braces. According to federal agents from the FBI and the Office of the Inspector General of Health and Human Services, the braces were necessary to treat knee, back, shoulder and wrist injuries.
Zusmer, who had his chiropractic practice in Miami Lakes, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, defraud the health care system, conspiracy to pay kickbacks, paying kickbacks and making false health statements. But he was also found not guilty on two charges of bribery.
One of his defense attorneys, Barry Wax, said the trial revolved around the testimony of Waxman, the government’s main witness.
“We are extremely shocked and disappointed by the jury’s decision,” Wax told the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “There was a significant amount of reasonable doubt in this case, based primarily on the testimony of a co-defendant, Jeremy Waxman. We expected a very different verdict.”
Justice Department lawyers said evidence at trial also showed that Alexander concealed both his and Waxman’s roles in the conspiracy by naming his durable medical device business after one of Alexander’s relatives. The company was called Silent Hill Bracing & Orthopedic Supply in the Bay Harbor Islands. Court records show that Alexander’s mother is listed as the owner of the business on a 2019 Medicare application enrollment form that was signed by her in 2019.
Alexander, who had a medical practice in Hialeah, was convicted of making a false statement relating to medical matters. But he was acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiracy to defraud Medicare by paying illegal bribes.
Alexander’s defense attorneys, José Quiñones and Frank Quintero, challenged the jury’s guilty verdict and plan to appeal.
“There was no evidence to convict Dr. Alexander,” Quinto said.
He said that Alexander was not involved in running the durable medical equipment company Silent Hill; that she had not filled out a Medicare enrollment application and forged her mother’s signature on the form, which provided details about the company’s services, including changes to its hours of operation. He said that Waxman ran Silent Hill, not Alexander.
During his trial testimony, Waxman said that he and his staff filled out Silent Hill’s Medicare enrollment application and would regularly show it to Alexander. But he also said that he did not remember if he was in the case.
Waxman testified that the initial signature on the form was that of Alexander’s mother. But he also testified that the second signature on the form also bore the fingerprints of Alexander’s mother. He later admitted under oath that the two signatures did not match.
When Alexander’s defense attorney Quinones accused her of “falsely signing” the form, Waxman said: “Never without Dr. Alexander’s instruction. Not even once”.
“We’ll have to take his word for it, okay?” Quiñones said.
“At the same time, yes,” said Waxman. “There is also evidence to support it.”
Waxman, convicted of conspiracy to commit medical fraud and wire fraud, was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison. But he is expected to receive a cut for his cooperation as a witness against Alexander and Zusmer.
Ronald Davidovich, owner of Broward Marketing Company, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit medical fraud. He was sentenced to about six years.
Umut Vardar, managing partner of Davidovic’s marketing company, lives in Turkey. According to the court records, he is a fugitive.