Lisa N. Hankerson and Pierre A. Hixon pleaded guilty to Racketeering (O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4(c)), Medicaid Fraud (O.C.G.A. § 49-4-146.1(b)(1)), and Conspiracy to Defraud the State (O.C.G.A. § 16-10-21(a)) today in Cobb County Superior Court. Hankerson, Hixon, and their co-defendants obtained over $622,000 through the fraudulent billing of Georgia Medicaid and the Amerigroup Corporation.
Between July 2005 and June 2010, Hankerson was the primary Medicaid biller for First Step Counseling Services, Inc. of Marietta, which provided Intensive Family Intervention counseling services, as well as Family and Individual counseling services, to troubled children in need of intensive therapy for behavioral issues. Children who qualify for these services under Medicaid typically do so because they are in danger of being removed from their homes. Hankerson is also the wife of First Step co-owner and co-defendant Garry Hankerson, who was sentenced on June 12, 2014, to serve seven years in prison and ordered to pay $622,125.43 in restitution. Hixon was a co-owner of First Step Counseling Services and served as its head of clinical services.
Lisa Hankerson would use counselors’ identities and children’s Medicaid numbers to bill far in excess of when patients were actually seen, sometimes billing Medicaid as if counselors were in two or three different locations at the same time. When audited by Medicaid and managed care entities, Hankerson created false treatment notes and forged multiple counselors’ signatures in an attempt to hide the fraudulent billing scheme from auditors and investigators. Mr. Hixon also created false treatment notes and caused claims to be submitted for treatment children never received, in some cases attesting that he saw clients in Cobb County on dates he was actually in his home state of Michigan. Parents confirmed children would go without any counseling for weeks or months at a time, while First Step billed for counseling sessions up to seven days a week and on holidays. In sum, over 3,000 false claims were submitted to the State of Georgia over a five year period, and hundreds of falsified documents and forged signatures were uncovered.
Many of the parents of the children in whose names the services were being fraudulently billed also reported that the children, receiving far less counseling than Medicaid covered for their mental health conditions, ultimately ended up in group homes, foster homes, or the juvenile justice system.
Judge James G. Bodiford sentenced Lisa Hankerson through a negotiated plea to one year in prison, nine years probation, and ordered joint and several restitution in the amount of $622,126.43 to the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Amerigroup Corporation. Hixon was sentenced through a negotiated plea to two and a half years in prison, seventeen and a half years probation, and ordered to pay joint and several restitution in the amount of $622,126.43 to the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Amerigroup Corporation. Co-defendant Londrea Buchanan, a counseling paraprofessional with First Step Counseling Services, previously pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the State and was sentenced to three years probation. All three defendants agreed to provide testimony against co-owner Garry Hankerson.
Assistant Attorney General Lyndie Freeman prosecuted the case on behalf of the State of Georgia. The investigation was conducted by Investigative Auditor Amy Snow of the Georgia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), a Division of the Office of the Attorney General. Georgia MFCU Analyst Tish Murray, Nurse Investigator Beth Ann Teague, Investigator Melody Toddy, and Investigator Shakethia Morgan assisted with the investigation, as did the Georgia Department of Community Health. The case originated with a referral produced by Senior Investigator David Ross of the Amerigroup Corporation.