Texas hospice care owner sentenced for $150 million health care fraud

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A hospital bed (Nexstar, file)

BROWNSVILLE (KVEO) — An owner of a Texas hospice care company who engaged in a $150 million scheme falsely claiming people needed hospice care has been ordered to serve 20 years in federal prison.

On Wednesday, a district court judge ordered Rodney Mesquias, 48, of San Antonio to serve 240 months, 20 years, in federal prison and pay $120 million in restitution.

Mesquias, along with co-conspirators Henry McInnis, 48, of Harlingen, and Francisco Peña, 82, of Laredo, and two other unnamed conspirators pleaded guilty to the charges in November 2019.

Mesquias owned Merida Group, a health care company that had dozens of locations throughout Texas. McInnis acted as Merida Group’s CEO. Peña acted as a medical director for Merida Group. He was also mayor of Rio Bravo at the time.

The conspirators exploited patients with long-term, incurable diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, by enrolling them in expensive, unnecessary hospice services from 2009 to 2018.

Officials were sent to the patients and incorrectly told them they have only six months to live. When the patients outlived this term, they were kept on hospice care so that Merida Group could profit more.

Peña told a cooperating witness “the way you make money is by keeping them alive as long as possible,” according to trial testimony.

In order to keep the conspiracy going, Mesquias fired employees who were not willing to go along with the fraud. He told employees not to “[expletive] with his patients or [expletive] with his money.”

Merida Group created false records to show that patients were dying and progressively getting worse, even though the opposite was true.

Mesquias used funding to buy expensive vehicles, jewelry, luxury clothing, real estate, and season tickets for sporting events. He treated compliant employees to parties and offered them tens of thousands of dollars in alcohol and other perks in exchange for medically unnecessary patient referrals.

“Families seek to give comfort and support to their ailing loved ones when all other medical options are gone,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, FBI San Antonio Division. “It is unconscionable and evil to prey upon the most vulnerable in our community.”

McInnis will be sentenced at a later date.

Peña died in November 2019.

The two other conspirators pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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