MEDIA COURTHOUSE >> A Philadelphia woman who defrauded Medicaid of nearly $212,000 with bogus billings for behavioral health services was sentenced to one to two years in a state prison and six years of consecutive probation Wednesday.
Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Capuzzi also ordered 59-year-old LaGracia Burnett to repay $211,942 to various agencies she had billed and $455 to the state for investigative costs.
Burnett entered an open guilty plea in June to Medicaid fraud, tampering with evidence and theft by deception, all felonies.
She had worked as a behavioral specialist and mobile therapist for three different behavioral health providers in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Chester counties. The case was prosecuted in Delaware County because Burnett used a staffing agency in Haverford.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Elizabeth Manigan told Judge Capuzzi in June that a grand jury investigation found Burnett reported providing overlapping services to children amongst the three agencies and when she was working as a substitute special education teacher.
To perpetuate the fraud, Burnett had to fill out time sheets indicating the children she saw and services provided, said Manigan. The total amount of fraud came to at least $211,942.60 between Jan. 12, 2013, and May 27, 2016, though Manigan noted Wednesday that figure represents the “bare minimum” of the theft.
“The times listed in that amount are only actual overlapping times where she couldn’t be with two children at the same time,” Manigan said in June. “In various instances, the commonwealth would prove … that she reported seeing three children at a time or reported being a teacher at the same time that she was providing medical assistance services.”
Defense attorney Steven O’Meara argued that Burnett had a “hard knock life,” including sexual assault at a young age that produced a son when she was just 12 years old.
Burnett has also voluntarily committed herself at least four times for mental health treatment and is currently continuing mental health counseling two or three times a month, O’Meara said. The stolen funds have been depleted because Burnett allegedly gave them to clients for things like groceries, he said.
“She said, ‘I just wanted to help the kids and their families who were growing up like I was, I just wanted to put them in a better place,’” O’Meara said Burnett told him.
O’Meara asked for a probationary sentence, but Manigan argued there were no mitigating factors warranting a downward departure from sentencing guidelines.
“She was supposed to be providing services to some of our most valuable individuals, those being children with special needs, children with behavioral problems,” said Manigan. “This isn’t a case of someone stealing money from the government. She did, but she stole from these children. These were children who needed services. It was determined that they needed services, and instead of providing those services, this defendant falsified the medical records of these children and did not provide what she was supposed to, all so that she could make some money.”
Capuzzi called Burnett’s actions “reprehensible” and described her as an albatross around the neck of a community that should have been looking up to her as a role model.
“You don’t get a free pass,” the judge told her. “I don’t buy this Robin Hood defense that you were stealing to provide for other people. I struggle every day with people in here that can’t afford these services and the state can’t provide them because people are stealing money.”
Capuzzi noted Burnett will be eligible for early release after nine months and gave her a report date of Aug. 16. She remains free on 10 percent of $100,000 bail until that date.
O’Meara indicated he would file a motion for reconsideration, as some of his supporting documents for a lesser sentence appeared to have never made their way to the judge or Manigan.
The judge indicated he would review the additional materials and denied requests from Manigan to monitor Burnett in the meantime, but warned the defendant that she could be facing “severe consequences” if she failed to appear at the county prison in Concord to begin her sentence next week.