CHARLOTTE, NC—Sarah Lavonne Willis, 49, of Charlotte, has agreed to enter a guilty plea to federal charges which were filed in November 2010 alleging health care fraud, money laundering, and failure to file tax returns. Today’s announcement is made by U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins. Willis has been in federal custody since March 2010.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina, working alongside a host of partner agencies, recently formed the Health Care Fraud Task Force, a multi-agency team of federal and state investigators, to root out health care fraud in the district. The work of the task force includes federal criminal prosecutions, such as the prosecution against Willis, and focuses on information sharing, following trends in health care fraud, staffing whistle blower complaints, and working specific investigations. The task force is committed to building upon long standing law enforcement partnerships with the goal of successful prosecutions in order to reduce fraud and recover taxpayer dollars. It is made up of representatives from FBI, HHS Office of Inspector General, DEA, IRS, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Medicaid Investigations Unit, the North Carolina Department of Insurance, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, all of whom join U.S. Attorney Tompkins in making today’s announcement.
Sarah Lavonne Willis today entered her guilty plea to three separate criminal counts, all of which relate to a health care fraud scheme alleged in the November indictment. According to official court documents, from 2007 to 2010 Willis falsely billed the North Carolina Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid), for behavioral therapy services which she did not provide and which were not eligible for reimbursement.
As part of her plea agreement the defendant acknowledged that the full loss amount which resulted from her criminal activity alleged in the bill of indictment is in excess of $1 million. Willis also agreed to pay full restitution and to the forfeiture to the government of any assets listed in the bill of indictment or seized in a related investigation. Some of the property previously seized from the defendant includes $193,283.71, a 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur, a 2007 Hummer H2, a 2002 Cadillac Escalade, a 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and a 2007 Dodge Charger. Pursuant to today’s entry of guilty plea Willis faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years of imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both, with regard to each of the federal criminal counts to which she pleaded guilty. The prosecution is being handled for the government by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelli H. Ferry of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.
This is the first plea agreement entered in a criminal case brought by the Western District Health Care Fraud Task Force, and it shows that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, working alongside partner agencies, will pursue those who defraud the government, costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
Sarah Lavonne Willis is also facing, in a separate federal criminal case, an additional criminal count which alleged possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Willis entered a guilty plea to the federal firearms violation on October 29, 2010 and is also awaiting sentencing in that criminal case. No date for sentencing on either case has been set at this time.
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