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United States v. Brown

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 25, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RONNETTE BROWN

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR ACQUITTAL

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         After a jury trial, Ronnette Brown ("Defendant"), was convicted on May 26, 2017, ECF No. 84, of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (Count One) and twenty-three counts of health care fraud in violation of §§ 1347 and 2 (Counts Two through Twenty-Four), representing all counts in the Indictment. ECF No. 1.

         On May 31, 2017, Ms. Brown filed a motion for an extension of time until June 30, 2017 to file a motion for a judgment of acquittal, ECF No. 78, and a motion for an extension of time until June 30, 2017 to file a motion for a new trial. ECF No. 79. The Court granted both motions. ECF No. 80. On June 29, 2017, Ms. Brown filed a motion for acquittal under Rule 29(c) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. ECF No. 88.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Ms. Brown's motion for acquittal.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         At trial, the Government presented testimony from thirty-one witnesses. See Witness List, ECF No. 75. Ms. Brown did not call any witnesses. A brief and non-exhaustive summary of the evidence presented at trial is below.

         The evidence showed that Ms. Brown was the owner and operator of We-MPACT LLC ("We-MPACT"), a social services agency in Bristol, Connecticut. The evidence at trial established Ms. Brown's close involvement in all aspects of the operations at We-MPACT. Ms. Brown also established rules requiring We-MPACT contractors, also referred to as clinicians, to submit records of each encounter with a client, "DAP notes, " within 24 hours of each encounter with a client. We-MPACT Clinicians were also required to timely submit payroll invoices, or "TRI Forms, " to We-MPACT every two weeks. Clinicians could be penalized by as much as $10 for each service they provided for failure to submit DAP notes or TRI forms. Ms. Brown set the hourly rate to be paid to clinicians for each client, and the number and frequency of services that clinicians could provide, communicating these to Angela Perry, who passed on this information to the clinicians.

         The evidence also showed that Ms. Brown submitted claims to Medicaid for the services purportedly rendered by We-MPACT. Specifically, the evidence showed that Brown's computer was used to submit claims electronically to Medicaid for services that We-MPACT purportedly provided to their clients. These claims were generally for psychotherapy services, purportedly rendered by licensed clinical social workers. The evidence showed that Ms. Brown obtained provider numbers from Medicaid for the licensed clinical social workers that purportedly rendered these services, and that Ms. Brown used her computer to submit claims to Medicaid using Medicaid's website.

         The billing codes used for these Medicaid claims represented that the psychotherapy services were personally provided by the licensed clinical social worker identified as the provider for each claim. Instead, the testimony showed that We-MPACT's services were, in fact, rendered by individuals who were not licensed social workers, and that the services generally consisted of only mentoring services provided to children, which are not covered by Medicaid.

         For Counts Two through Twenty-Four of the Indictment, the twenty-three counts of health care fraud, each count involved a specific claim submitted to Medicaid for one of eight different clients when, in fact, no service of any kind had been provided to the client. The Government presented the testimony of the clients, or their family members, regarding the clients' interactions with We-MPACT, and certain periods of time where each client did not receive any services from We-MPACT, including on the specific dates associated with each of the twenty-three health care fraud counts in the Indictment. Representatives of Medicaid and the We-MPACT clinician who worked with each client then testified that claims were submitted to Medicaid for services for each of the clients for dates when the clients did not, in fact, receive any services of any kind from We-MPACT. Despite the record-keeping requirements that We-MPACT imposed on clinicians, the evidence showed that there were no DAP notes or TRI forms for any of the services provided to the clients on the particular dates charged in Counts Two through Twenty-Four of the indictment.

         The Government also presented the testimony of Madeline Mazariegos, a licensed clinical social worker, who testified that she worked with We-MPACT, but that she never gave anyone at We-MPACT permission to obtain a Medicaid provider number in her name. Ms. Mazariegos further testified that she did not provide any services to We-MPACT clients that would be eligible for Medicaid billing, thus We-MPACT could not properly submit Medicaid claims with her as the rendering provider. Yet, records from Medicaid's website showed that Ms. Brown logged into the website, obtained a provider number for Ms. Mazariegos at We-MPACT, and billed the services associated with Counts Twenty through Twenty-Four of the Indictment to Medicaid, with Ms. Mazariegos identified as the provider of the services. The evidence showed that Ms. Brown's computer submitted at least one of these claims, as well as other Medicaid claims under the provider number for Ms. Mazariegos.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 29, the Court "on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). The defendant may file a motion for acquittal "within 14 days after a guilty verdict or after the court discharges the jury, whichever is later, " and the "defendant is not required to move for a judgment of acquittal before the court submits the case to the jury as a prerequisite for making such a motion after jury discharge." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c).

         "A motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29 focuses upon the sufficiency of the government's evidence in its case in chief to sustain a conviction." United States v. Botti,722 F.Supp.2d 207, 209 (D. Conn. 2010), affd,711 F.3d 299 (2d Cir. 2013). "Under Rule 29, a district court will grant a motion to enter a judgment of acquittal on grounds of insufficient evidence if it concludes that no rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Jackson,335 F.3d 170, 180 (2d Cir. 2003). The defendant "who challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction bears a heavy burden, " because "[n]ot only must the evidence be viewed in the light most favorable to the Government and all permissible inferences drawn in the Government's favor, " but "the jury verdict must be upheld if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, "a court may grant a judgment of acquittal only if the evidence ...


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