10/30/05 — Convalescent president convicted

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Convalescent president convicted

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 30, 2005 2:08 AM

The president of Convalescent Transport Inc., which has offices in Goldsboro and other cities, has been convicted by a federal district court jury of 343 counts of health care fraud and three other offenses.

Brian Conner will be sentenced next year on health care fraud, two counts of obstruction of a health care investigation and one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He was convicted last week in Eastern District Court in New Bern.

The conviction will not affect the Goldsboro operation, said Jay Warrick, the office manager and a 15-year employee.

"It will be a while before you see any changes here. It will be business as usual," he said. "We will keep our chins up and keep things going."

Convalescent Transport's lawyer, G. Christopher Kelly of Atlanta, said in a statement that the company "will continue to operate and anticipates fulfilling all existing obligations."

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Louise W. Flanagan has scheduled sentencing for a February term of court.

Conner could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison on each of the 343 fraud charges and five years on each obstruction and conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors said the evidence showed that Convalescent Transports, at the direction of Conner, made fraudulent claims that its patients required ambulance transport to routine dialysis treatments because they were "bed-confined" and could not get up from a bed without assistance, walk or sit in a chair or wheelchair.

In fact, the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Yvonne Watford-McKinney and Jay Exum, said the evidence showed that the patients were documented by health care workers and seen by Convalescent Transport employees as being able to do all or some of those tasks. Some, they said, engaged in such everyday activities in their communities as attending church, grocery shopping and driving.

Experts testified that the patients did not have a medical need for ambulance transport to dialysis treatment.

Testimony from current and former Convalescent Transport employees established that the conspiracy dated back to 1997. At that time Conner directed employees to rewrite and falsify ambulance records to eliminate references to a patient's ability to walk or sit. He also told employees, the evidence showed, that omitting the information would enable the company to keep Medicare and Medicaid payments.

The prosecutors said the company sought to block the investigation by trying to prevent records that had been subpoenaed from being produced.

The investigation was conducted by federal Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Attorney General's Office.