One of the nation’s largest private prison companies is defending itself against Medicaid fraud charges filed by a former clinical supervisor at an Ohio residential treatment center for teens.
Lynn Roycroft’s federal lawsuit alleges Abraxas Ohio in Shelby, an all-male, treatment center owned by GEO Group Inc., billed the government for years on "false or fraudulent" claims, including counseling sessions never happened.
“I would say it was a pretty egregious abuse of your tax dollars,” Roycroft told WKYC Channel 3 News. “Because treatment did not happen for the most part.”
According to state Medicaid officials, Abraxas received more than $9 million in payments in 2016 and more than $33 million since 2012.
Roycroft, who has spent 33 years in counseling, alleges the federal government was billed by Abraxas for group counseling sessions that were never held. She also alleges progress reports were “cut and pasted” from one resident to another.
She also contends men and women who once worked blue collar jobs such as plumbers and roofers were hired by Abraxas, given a week of training and then acted as professional counselors for the 100 boys who were housed at the residential facility in Richland County.
Abraxas, she said, misrepresented the credentials and qualifications of some counselors.
The teens treated at Abraxas were generally sent to the facility to obtain counseling and treatment after having cases heard in juvenile courts across Ohio, including Cuyahoga and Summit counties.
Aside from financial and billing irregularities, Roycroft says the teenage boys were often improperly restrained and that “counselors” spent more time “controlling behaviors” instead of providing counseling for drug and alcohol abuse.
“The philosophy of the institution was to get as many kids in there as you could and bill [Medicaid] your three hours of group [counseling] a day, whether the groups happened or not,” Roycroft said. “To me, it’s just blatant fraud.”
Pablo Paez, a GEO Group spokesman, said Roycroft’s lawsuit “has no merit” and that the company will defend it “vigorously.” He declined further comment.
Abraxas Ohio’s director is Erich Dumbeck, who once headed the Huron County Department of Jobs and Family Services. In 2007, Dumbeck resigned in the wake of world-wide attention focusing his agency and a couple who kept their foster children in crudely built cages.
Dumbeck declined comment.
Lavonte Hinchen of Cleveland was twice sent to Abraxas for three-month stints in 2008 and 2009. He called the programming “a joke” and said teens were not provided counseling.
“A lot of the friends I made there…you can look it up, they’re having problems today out on the streets,” said Hinchen. “They don’t know how to handle their problems day to day.
“A lot of people’s tax dollars went in, but nothing came out of it.”
That’s largely due to the lack of counseling and proper training of staff, Roycroft said. When she was hired in 2008, Roycroft said she was expected to address myriad problems inside the expansive residential center near Mansfield.
Some group sessions never met, however, reports were filled out as if they did occur, she said. Those forms were then submitted to Medicaid for billing purposes.
“It was totally out of control when I got there,” she said. “A lot of the time, I was really just spending trying to wrap my head around what I was being told.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, is pending. Roycroft is seeking unspecified damages. She and her attorney say taxpayers were defrauded, but the children and their families continue to suffer because they never received the help needed to overcome addictions or other mental health issues.
“This is fraud,” said attorney Warner Mendenhall of Akron. “This is very abusive. The worst type of abuse because it’s victimizing the most vulnerable people in our society.”