Erie, Pennsylvania (WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A federal grand jury has indicted Erie-based Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy and its founders, along with 18 other people, on charges of conspiracy to commit wire and health care fraud and health care fraud.
The indictment was announced Tuesday by Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman.
Federal search warrants were executed and five locations were raided by the FBI in Feb. 2021.
The indictment names 18 people, the Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy main office at 902 West Erie Plaza Drive, and its founders Aaron Hertel and Michael Brown as defendants.
According to the Indictment presented to the court, the defendants reportedly conspired from January 2007 to October 2021 to commit wire fraud and health care fraud.
The two-count Indictment named the following individuals as defendants:
Aaron Wilhelm Hertel
Michael Robert Brown
Sarah Elizabeth Bailey
Jessica Jeanne Morphy
Jacqueline Renee Exley
Julie Ann Johnson
Bobby Lee Rainey
Steve Michael Bauer
Austin John Dudenhoefer
Philip Dale Sorensen, Jr.,
Patricia Susan Berchtold
Jeremy Richard Bowes
Jennifer Marie Larmon
Travis Walter Litz
Erin Marie Riffe
Abigayle Jane Fachetti
Lori Lynn Goss
Marissa Sue Hull
Justin Charles Burger
Carl William Lewis, Jr.
According to the Indictment presented to the court, the defendants conspired from January 2007 to October 2021 to commit wire fraud and health care fraud.
a) Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy utilized unlicensed technicians to provide physical therapy treatment, including aquatic therapy, and billed that treatment as if performed by a licensed physical therapist or physical therapy assistant.
b) Unlicensed technicians at Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy were permitted and required to log into the treatment documentation system, WebPT, as a licensed physical therapist to facilitate documenting treatment as if performed by a licensed therapist.
c) Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy and its licensed employees regularly recorded and billed for treatment time in excess of actual treatment time spent with patients.
d) Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy and its licensed employees rarely if ever utilized group therapy codes when billing for treatment even when group billing codes were the only appropriate billing codes that could have been utilized.
e) Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy regularly billed treatment time using the name and credentials of a physical therapist who was on vacation and not working on the day in question.
f) Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy allowed physical therapy assistants and unlicensed personnel to treat patients with insurance that only reimbursed for treatment performed by a physical therapist. Then the practice and its employees covered up who actually treated the patient by removing the name of the actual person providing treatment from the treatment record.
g) Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy and some of its employees also manually changed the patient schedule after the fact to conceal that Medicare patients were scheduled at the same time as other patients. This was done to conceal that Medicare patients did not have one on one treatment with a physical therapist as billed by the practice and required by Medicare.
The defendants are facing a maximum total sentence of 30 years in prison, a fine of $500,000 or twice the monetary loss — (whichever is greater) — or both for each defendant and the business.
Assistant United States Attorney Christian A. Trabold is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General – Medicaid Fraud Control and Abuse Unit, and the United States Office of Personnel Management – Office of Inspector General (OPM-OIG) contributed to the investigation.
Later in the afternoon, Attorney Charbel Latouf, who represents Aaron Hertel, told us that Hertel “maintains his innocence and intends on defending against the allegations made with the indictment.”
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