October 23, 2017; Philadelphia Inquirer and Seattle Times (Associated Press)
The problem of faux nonprofits is anything but new, encompassing an odd array of scams meant for personal benefit. This story, however, follows a fairly familiar pattern.
It appears that a 14-month-long saga in Camden, New Jersey is finally coming to a close. In August of 2015, the FBI raided the Nueva Vida Behavioral Health Clinic; a few days ago, its executive director was sentenced to 70 months in prison. Cesar Tavera earlier had pled guilty to the charge of embezzlement and using unqualified people to treat Medicare patients.
Tavera founded the clinic in 1998 to serve the poor residents of Camden, especially the Latinx population. In 2014, the clinic was exploring the possibility of expanding to Vineland, New Jersey and had applied for and been granted a $35,000 loan by the city. The status of the project seems unclear.
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Tavera fraudulently charged Medicare quite often. When a patient came in for a short visit, he would reportedly charge as if it had lasted for 45 minutes and would write up fraudulent reports to cover himself. In another cited instance, Tavera charged separately for a visit with a mother and her child when they had come together. He charged for individual sessions when people had been treated in a group session. He charged as if a patient had been treated by a qualified professional when in fact they had not. Tavera himself was not qualified, even though he claimed to be. He also regularly withdrew money from the Nueva Vida bank account to gamble ($35,000 at one point) and to support his daughter’s musical career.
The list of his infractions goes on and on, and he now has to serve a 70-month sentence followed by three years of supervised release. He must also pay back $2.5 million.
To make the story even more heinous, Tavera’s wife, Maria, who was an administrator at the clinic, pled guilty to defrauding Medicare to the tune of $250,000. A former therapist at the clinic, Andres Ayala, also pled guilty to defrauding Medicare, costing the federal program $200,000.
It is a sad case, and we can only hope that the patients served by Nueva Vida can find other, better service elsewhere.—Rob Meiksins