A drug rehab clinic in Los Angeles was shut down after a criminal investigation found Medi-Cal fraud. Another, in Riverside County, continued to flourish, reaping increasing amounts of taxpayer money.
The two clinics have the same name and the same leaders – one of them now a fugitive.
In 2009, state prosecutors charged Godday Imakavar and Japhet Ifejoku with fraud in connection with $33,700 in bogus bills over five months at Immaculate Care Center on Wilshire Boulevard, not far from downtown Los Angeles.
State Justice Department investigators found teenage clients there were instructed to sign multiple attendance documents in one sitting to help the agency pad its bills in 2006. Investigators also discovered fake clients, including one teen who said she was locked up in a probation camp when bills were submitted in her name.
Los Angeles County cut the clinic’s contract in 2009, and the following year, Imakavar was convicted of submitting false bills to Medi-Cal. He paid fines and fees and was sentenced to probation. Because of his conviction, he was banned from billing Medi-Cal.
Ifejoku never faced those same charges. He remains a wanted fugitive, according to Mark Zahner, chief of Medi-Cal fraud prosecutions for the Justice Department.
The fraud court case clearly identified Imakavar and Ifejoku as executives of the Riverside County business – but it seems no one thought to tell Riverside the details. Informed of Imakavar’s place on the Medi-Cal blacklist, Karen Kane, Riverside County’s substance abuse program administrator, said: “Wow. No, we didn’t know.”
Regardless, Kane said her county has to contract with any Drug Medi-Cal clinic that the state certifies. And even after prosecutors secured a conviction in the fraud case, state regulators did not strip either Immaculate Care location of its certification.
Karen JohnsonKaren Johnson – Chief deputy director of the California Department of Health Care Services since 2007, with oversight of anti-fraud audits and investigations., chief deputy director of the state Department of Health Care Services, would not comment on specific cases. But she said her agency now is checking blacklisted providers and suspending people on that list who are still operating.
Imakavar told The Center for Investigative Reporting that he no longer works at Immaculate Care and referred all other questions to Los Angeles attorney Joseph Benincasa.
“I know that he still has a relationship with the company, but I don’t know the details of it,” Benincasa said.
Documents submitted to the state last year listed Imakavar as board president of the Moreno Valley clinic. The organization’s tax filings say he worked 75 hours a week there in 2011.
Meanwhile, although the state considers Ifejoku a fugitive, his signature appears on a July 2012 one-year contract for $620,000 with Riverside County, which relies on Immaculate Care to provide counseling to teens.
Riverside County confirmed that Ifejoku remains the organization’s executive director.
CNN senior investigative producer Scott Zamost, CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin, CIR reporter Joanna Lin, CIR intern Mihir Zaveri and Stephen K. Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University, contributed to this report. This story was edited by Amy Pyle, Robert Salladay and Mark Katches, with contributions from Richard T. Griffiths of CNN. It was copy edited by Nikki Frick and Christine Lee.