Former Nurse Gets Stiff Sentence For Medicare Fraud

Posted On Friday, May 18, 2018

What Happened?

On May 9, 2018, Joan Cicchiello, a 67-year-old former registered nurse, was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to 72 months’ imprisonment for aiding and abetting health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1347 and 2.

The Rundown

Cicchiello pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting health care fraud on October 5, 2017, pursuant to a written agreement. According to the government, Cicchiello, the former owner and operator of a mental health services provider, recruited and hired unlicensed or otherwise unqualified individuals to administer psychiatric care to elderly patients throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as to adolescents at her Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania office.  Among the counselors Cicchiello employed were a convicted Megan’s Law offender, an 80 year-old chiropractor, and social worker whose license had been suspended due to felony drug convictions. Cicchiello created false records indicating that her counselors had proper training and represented via bills submitted to Medicare that she, a licensed and qualified practitioner, was providing the psychotherapy services.   

Based in part on a loss amount of more than $150,000 and the vulnerability of the victims, Cicchiello’s advisory range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was the statutory maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment.  She requested a probationary sentence to enable her to make restitution payments and due to her advanced age and the low probability of recidivism.

Before imposing a sentence, the Court, Judge John E. Jones II, noted that the fraud was particularly disturbing, given that it was largely perpetrated on the elderly, the infirm, and adolescents. Nevertheless, accounting for her age, he varied downward from the guidelines range to 72 months’ imprisonment.

For the Record

“This brazen fraud was compounded by the fact that it was perpetrated on some of our most vulnerable citizens,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Freed.  “The hard-working agents of HHS-OIG and the FBI should be commended for their tireless work on this investigation.  The outstanding efforts of these investigators resulted in appropriate punishment for the offender, recovery of taxpayer funds and the opportunity for the victims to receive the legitimate help that they need.”

The Take Away

Although Cicchiello received a downward variance, it is difficult to count 72 months’ imprisonment as a defense victory. The substantial sentence reflects the brazenness of the offense and the susceptibility of those affected by the conduct.