Doctor gets prison in $3.2 million Medicare scam

A 71-year-old Bay Area doctor is going to federal prison and a San Francisco woman described by federal prosecutors as a “street level recruiter” for a power wheelchair company will be on probation after they were sentenced for their role in a $3.2 million Medicare scam.

Federal prosecutors say after pleading guilty to last fall to health care fraud and other charges, Dr. Edna Calaustro was sentenced to 24 months in prison, while 49-year-old Mele Saavedra was ordered yesterday to serve three years of probation.

In addition to serving time in prison, Calaustro was also ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution to Medicare.  She will also be on supervised release for three more years once she’s released from prison.

Besides probation, Saavedra was also ordered to pay back more than $275,000 in restitution and will have to perform 500 hours of community service.

In announcing the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said Calaustro and Saavedra were part of a scheme that involved sending more than 400 false Medicare claims to two Southern California-based medical equipment companies.

For nearly five years, Saavedra and another “recruiter” — Eduardo Abad — would, according to prosecutors, “recruit” prospective wheelchair patients from the Tenderloin district, including from a neighborhood senior center and fast food restaurant, as well as from the South of Market neighborhood.

Once the potential patients were identified, Calaustro would join either Saavedra or Abad and go to the homes of the prospective patients.

At the homes, Calaustro would conduct what prosecutors and the FBI described as “sham” examinations.  A portable copy machine brought along would be used to make a copy of the Medicare cards of the people recruited, and then bogus prescriptions and fraudulent paperwork would be sent to the two Southern California power wheelchair companies.

Those companies — Van Nuys-based Debs Medical Distributors and Santa Clarita-based Dignity Medical Supply — were operated by a husband and wife, who would then produce more fraudulent paperwork and submit the claims to Medicare.

Prosecutors say Patrick Sogbein, owner of Debs Medical Distributors and his wife, Adebola Adefunke Adebimpe, owner of Dignity Medical Supply, paid kickbacks to Calaustro and the recruiters.

Sogbein, Adebimpe and Abad have all been convicted and sentenced after Calaustro and Saavedra both provided testimony in the case.

Sogbein is serving 12 years in prison, while his Adebimpe just started serving a sentence of four years and three months.

Abad has been sentenced to a year in prison, but is free pending an appeal.

As for Calaustro — who maintains residences in both Daly City and Los Banos —  she is scheduled to begin serving her prison sentence in November.


John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter@breakingnewsman.