Matthew Harrell appeared to be the owner of several mental health businesses that treated young people. But he wasn’t a mental health provider; he was a youth football coach.
“He got kids’ information when they signed up for football camp and other after-school activities he sponsored,” said Special Agent Gregory Peacock, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office. “He used that information to bill Medicaid for mental health services that were never provided.”
Although he started in Georgia, Harrell, 44, eventually expanded his business into Florida and Louisiana. In Louisiana, Harrell bought a list of 13,000 stolen identities of children who were on Louisiana’s Medicaid program. Harrell used the data to bilk Louisiana’s Medicaid program out of more than a half-million dollars in mental health services never provided.
He tried to make his companies look legitimate. Harrell had offices and employees, although those employees didn’t provide care—they simply engaged in fake billing. Harrell even kept patient “charts” sitting on the shelf at his offices in case of an audit.
Harrell interviewed medical providers for non-existent jobs, asking them to provide their credentials and Medicaid provider numbers. Harrell didn’t hire the providers, but he used their Medicaid billing numbers without their knowledge. Neither the parents of the children nor the providers knew Harrell was using their information fraudulently. From 2012 through 2015, Harrell’s companies received about $2.5 million in reimbursements—all of which were fraudulent.
“There is only so much money to go around, and this money was meant to be used for kids who really need help” — Gregory Peacock, special agent, FBI Atlanta
The scheme was uncovered when Georgia Medicaid fraud personnel made an unannounced site visit to one of Harrell’s companies. This evolved into a multi-agency investigation involving the FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, and Medicare fraud investigators from Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana.
The partnership among the agencies was key to investigating and prosecuting the case. “Every health care fraud case we work, we work alongside these agencies,” Peacock said. “Our relationships are excellent, and it was beneficial to have them working with us on this case.”
In December 2019, Harrell pleaded guilty to health care fraud and aggravated identity theft charges. In March 2020, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Two of the Georgia participants in the scheme were also convicted on similar federal charges. Another five were convicted on state charges in Florida and Louisiana.
For the investigative team, taking down this ring of fraudsters sends an important message. “There is only so much money to go around, and this money was meant to be used for kids who really need help,” Peacock said. “It’s a really important thing to be working on, and we take health care fraud very seriously.”