This Month in Corruption: Snapshots of the Public Trust Betrayed

Monday, December 26, 2016

If I were back in the newspaper business, I’d probably write a lead for this article containing the cliché, “Crime never takes a holiday.” 

Yes, clichés are the first resort of lazy-minded and hurried scribes, but the good thing is, they're usually accurate. 
So, with perfunctory apologies for interrupting your holiday cheer, I now present four separate accounts of public corruption in Massachusetts, which were all brought to culminations of sorts this month within a span of six days:

Embezzlement at Housing Authority.  On Tuesday, December 13, Rosa A. Famania, age 33, of Milford, pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling money from an agency receiving federal funds.  That agency is the Framingham Housing Authority (FHA), where Famania was employed as an accounting assistant for five-and-a-half years.
A press release from the Office of U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz states, “Between February 2014 and August 2015, Famania stole approximately 181 cash rental payments totaling $70,649 from FHA and utilized an FHA accounting software program to assist in disguising the theft...”

The release continues, “When Famania came into possession of the rent payments, she did not deposit the payments into the FHA bank account.  Instead, she kept the cash rent payments and adjusted the tenants’ balance downward…Approximately $55,100 in cash was deposited into an account maintained by Famania between July 2014 and July 2015.  From February 2014 to July 2014, nineteen U.S. Postal Service money orders totaling $17,900 were deposited into another bank account maintained by Famania.”
Famania will be sentenced for the crime, which carries a prison term of up to 10 years, on March 14, 2017.

Fraudulent Billing for Services. On Friday, December 16, Nita Guzman, age 52, of Burlington, was sentenced to jail and ordered to pay up to $570,000 in restitution for stealing from public agencies by billing for unlicensed psychological services.  
Guzman had pleaded guilty in Middlesex Superior Court to two counts of filing false Medicaid claims, one count of filing a false claim with a public agency, four counts of larceny, and two counts of practicing psychology without a license.  Her sentence to the house of correction was for 18 months.  After that, she’ll be on probation for five years.

According to a press release from the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, Guzman and her sister “orchestrated a criminal scheme to provide and bill for unlicensed psychological and mental health services for patients, including children, that they were not qualified to offer…”
The release continued, “Guzman’s twin sister, Nina Tischer, pleaded guilty in February 2016 to charges of False Claims to Public Agency (3 counts), Larceny (3 counts), Identity Fraud (3 counts), and Unlicensed Practice of Psychology (3 counts).  She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in the House of Correction, suspended for a probationary period of five years…

“Through their corporations, both located in Lowell, the sisters provided bilingual psychological services to Medicaid and Medicare members in the greater-Lowell and greater-Lawrence areas, performed mental health disability evaluations for the Department of Transitional Assistance and the state’s Medicaid program (MassHealth), and assessed children for learning disabilities for Lawrence Public Schools.
“The investigation of Guzman began when a licensed psychologist reported to the AG’s Office that Guzman’s company had used her name and license number without permission to bill a Medicaid managed care organization more than $430,000.”

Theft from State Agency.  On Monday, December 19, Ennia Manto, age 52, of Braintree, the former Director of the Finance Division of the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission (GIC), pleaded guilty to stealing more than $122,000 from the agency.  (The GIC is a quasi-independent agency  providing and administering health insurance and other benefits to state employees and retirees.) 
A press release from the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey states, “In June 2015, an accountant at the GIC discovered a wire payment for $72,349.83 that could not be reconciled with the GIC’s statements and internal documents.  Manto acknowledged that he made the transfer, claiming it was a payment to a health plan administrator for a nonstandard report.  Later, the accountant discovered that the required payment was for a different amount and not due for another year.  The GIC launched an immediate internal investigation and reported the matter to authorities.”

The release continues, “Upon learning that the wire transfer was being looked into, Manto altered the original printout of the wire transfer by cutting out information related to Seaport Equity, a company owned by Manto, and taping in information about the health plan administrator.  These documents were later found in a GIC recycling bin.  The contract documents that Manto had given to the accountant as backup documentation for the wire transfer had also been altered.
“Authorities subsequently confirmed that between March and June 2015, Manto made two wire transfers to Seaport Equity.  Further investigation revealed that Manto made an additional unauthorized wire transfer from the GIC’s funds to Seaport Equity in March 2015 for $50,000.”

Although the Attorney General’s office had recommended jail time followed by probation, Manto was ordered to make full restitution to the state and given three years’ probation.
Conspiring against Federal Regulators.  On Monday, December 19, Robert A. Ronzio, age 42, of North Providence, Rhode Island, national sales director for the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, pleaded guilty in the federal district court of Boston in connection with an alleged conspiracy to defraud the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Ronzio is reported to be cooperating with the government in its ongoing investigation of the center, where legal drugs were compounded, and he will not be sentenced until September 27, 2017.

A press release from the Office of U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz stated, “Ronzio admitted that NECC was a pharmacy dispensing drugs pursuant to physician-created prescriptions when it fact it operated as a manufacturer distributing drugs in bulk.  NECC created numerous work-around methods to make it appear to federal and state regulators that NECC was dispensing drugs pursuant to valid patient-specific prescriptions when it fact it was not.”
The release noted that “The NECC criminal case arose from the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that was traced back to contaminated vials of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate (MPA) manufactured by NECC.  The outbreak was the largest public health crisis caused by a pharmaceutical product.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 751 patients in 20 states were diagnosed with a fungal infection after receiving injections of NECC’s MPA.  Of those 751 patients, the CDC reported that 64 patients in nine states died.  The government’s investigation has revealed that those numbers continue to rise.

“In December 2014, following a two-year investigation, Ronzio and 13 other owners, employees, and associates of NECC were charged in a 131-count indictment.  The indictment did not charge Ronzio with having an active role in the drug manufacturing operations of NECC, but did charge him with conspiring to defraud the FDA.”


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