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Surgeon who billed insurers of nearly $30 million pleads guilty to federal fraud charges

Jeff Burlew, Tallahassee Democrat
Source: Tallahassee Democrat

Dr. Moses deGraft-Johnson
Source: Tallahassee Democrat
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Dr. Moses deGraft-Johnson, a cardiovascular surgeon who snaked his way into under-served communities to find patients to rip off and deceive for his own financial gain, pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.

DeGraft-Johnson, owner of the now-shuttered Heart and Vascular Institute of North Florida, was indicted Feb. 4 on numerous counts of health-care fraud and related charges. He pleaded guilty Friday to 56 counts of health-care fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and aggravated identity theft.

He was accused of billing Capital Health Plan, Medicare and others for procedures he never performed at the clinic and walking away with at least $29 million, which he used to bankroll a jet-set lifestyle.

DeGraft-Johnson appeared before U.S. Chief District Judge Mark Walker via video link from the Federal Detention Center in Tallahassee, where he has been held since his indictment was unsealed. 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he used churches, nursing homes and at least one hospital to find vulnerable victims, many of whom were subjected to invasive and unnecessary procedures. His crimes left some patients unsure about the veracity of their own medical records and what treatment they may actually need.

The back story:

Prosecutors: Tallahassee cardiovascular surgeon bilked health insurers of $23 million

Poached patients, phantom surgeries and betrayal: Feds call $23 million scheme a ‘cancer’

Tallahassee surgeon expected to plead guilty in massive federal health-care fraud case

Federal prosecutors said they will continue to work to uncover all aspects of deGraft-Johnson’s scheme so patients can be properly informed and treated.

“It is critically important that we do everything within the scope of our authority to help the patients preyed upon by this criminal doctor, in order to seek recovery of the $29-million-plus that he fraudulently received and to prevent similar schemes from happening in the future — both by deterring the would-be perpetrators and by educating those they would exploit,” U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe said in a written release.

Prosecutors also vowed to “aggressively pursue” all of his forfeitable assets in the United States and abroad, including luxury cars, jewelry, watches, more than $1 million in cash and homes in and around New York City, Miami and Houston.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI, the IRS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Florida Attorney General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Grogan serves as lead prosecutor.

Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville Division, said such fraud reduces the availability of critical resources and contributes to the rising cost of medical care.

“Today’s plea is a direct result of the commitment by the FBI and our law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue those who willingly defraud American citizens,” she said in a news release. 

Degraft-Johnson, 46, was born in Ghana but immigrated to America with his family as a child, settling in the Houston area. He had a storied medical career — including reportedly saving the life of rapper 50 Cent, who came into his Queens trauma ward in 2000 with gunshot wounds.

In recent years, he divided his time between Tallahassee, where he had a downtown condo, and New York City, where his wife and children resided. He joined Capital Regional Medical Center’s staff in 2014, working as an independent doctor until sometime before his crimes came to light.

He had numerous business ventures in the U.S. and Africa, including a hamburger restaurant, a nightclub and a failed effort to build a hospital in Ghana. He even aspired to run one day for president of Ghana; one of his family members served as vice president of the country in the early 1980s.

Kimberly Austin, who worked as an office manager at the institute, was also charged by a federal grand jury in Tallahassee. She pleaded guilty last month.

Degraft-Johnson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each of the fraud and conspiracy counts, another maximum sentence of two years for the identity theft and hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential fines. He will be sentenced April 8, 2021, at the U.S. Courthouse in Tallahassee.

Contact Jeff Burlew at jburlew@tallahassee.com or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.

How far will doctors go to commit fraud? Some have reported doctors appearing in the community where they are including coming on their jobs. Health Insurance Fraud cost taxpayers and insurance companies billions and sometimes trillions of dollars annually. For some patients it costs them their life due to poor health outcomes due to medical fraud. When asked about the frequent appears of medical professionals at locations where their patients where in public, we were told that it is public space. What are your thoughts on this matter? How is this different from stalking and what are the HIPPA implications? The department of Justice prosecutes several health care fraud cases every year. What are the economic implications for the areas where medical care fraud is rampant and the medical industry is large?

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