Woman’s health care fraud, ID misuse convictions upheld

November 2, 2017

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a woman’s convictions for health care fraud and misusing an identity. The panel determined the district court properly handed down indictments and admitted evidence to allow the government to prove the woman was involved in a plan to defraud Indiana’s Medicaid program.

After forming Empowerment Non-Emergency Medical Transport Inc. in 2011, Wanda Shorter attended one training session on Indiana Medicaid’s billing protocols, then began submitting invoices for Empowerment’s services. Shorter continued to receive Medicaid reimbursements for her services until March 2014, when she and her company were indicted in an alleged scheme to defraud Indiana Medicaid. Shorter and Empowerment also were indicted on multiple counts with fraudulently using the identity of “C.C.” to carry out their health care and wire fraud scheme.

During the ensuing trial, the government submitted as evidence the results of FBI and Indiana Attorney General’s Office investigations into Empowerment, as well as the experiences of Empowerment employees and clients, and information related to Shorter’s personal involvement in her company’s billing practices. The government also presented evidence that Shorter and Empowerment used the identities of two of their clients, Cassamdra Cook and Chitika Cox, or “C.C.,” to bill for reimbursement when they did not provide services to those clients to the extent the company claimed on their Medicaid invoices.

Rather than defending herself against Empowerment’s fraudulent billing practices, Shorter moved for acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 on the grounds that there was no evidence tying her to those practices or of her intent to defraud Medicaid. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana denied that motion, and the jury found both Shorter and Empowerment guilty as charged.

Shorter then appealed in United States of America v. Wanda Shorter, 16-2053, first challenging the admission of evidence of the fact that Empowerment’s checks sometimes bounced, its equipment was in disrepair and its drivers were late or absent for pickups, as well as evidence that she paid for a cruise and bought a car and new house. But in a Wednesday opinion, Judge William Conley of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, sitting by designation with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, said such evidence was relevant to the government’s rebuttal of Shorter’s defense that she created Empowerment for altruistic reasons and that the billing errors were due to negligence.

Shorter also challenged the indictments on misuse of an identity, but Conley wrote she failed to raise any objections to the indictment to the district court, so her challenge failed on those grounds alone. Even so, the judge said Shorter’s challenge to the indictments would not succeed anyway because she failed to prove she did not receive proper notice of who “C.C.” was or that she was prejudiced by the indictment not specifically identifying Cook and Cox by name.

Conley further wrote Shorter failed to prove the indictments for the misuse of identity charges were duplicitous by failing to prove she did not understand the charges, might have been convicted by less than a unanimous jury or might be subjected to double jeopardy. Finally, Conley and the circuit panel upheld the sufficiency of the evidence convicting Shorter, including the admissibility of the summaries of Empowerment’s erroneous billings for Cook and Cox.