Some defense lawyers will say that judges are more lenient during the holidays. Earlier this week, however, a Judge in White River Junction, Vermont handed down 9 concurrent jail terms of 2 to 6 years to 64-year-old Patrick Morse. What did Morse do to earn a lengthy sentence on Christmas Eve? Prosecutors say he was the Grinch who stole $92,000 from the Vermont Medicaid program and his kids.
Morse was convicted earlier this year of nine Medicaid fraud related charges. Prosecutors say that he billed Medicaid for taking care of two of his children. Both have extensive medical needs and qualified for care. Unfortunately, the kids didn’t get the care they needed and Morse instead pocketed the money.
On December 23rd, Morse returned to court for sentencing. His lawyer argued that he should receive no jail time because of his age and health. The 64-year-old Morse suffers from C.O.P.D. and requires constant oxygen. His lawyer also says he has other health problems.
Morse’s wife testified on behalf of her husband at the sentencing hearing. She claimed that the family was forced to live in a motel and that she needed Morse to avoid starving and becoming homeless. The judge wasn’t moved, however. Press reports say the wife was recently convicted of welfare fraud.
Prosecutors urged the court to give Morse a significant prison sentence for his role in the Medicaid fraud scheme. According to Assistant Attorney General Paul Barkus, “His children were eligible for 400 to 500 hours of care every six months. They received no care. There were 5,800 hours of paid care that these children were entitled to and they didn’t receive a minute of it. It’s as if Mr. Morse looked at his children as little ATMs. They were like little piggy banks to him.”
Worse, to cover up his crimes, Morse used the social security number of another one of his kids on reimbursement requests. That meant that another of his kids received a tax bill from the IRS for money he never received.
In sentencing Morse to prison, Vermont Superior Court Judge Theresa DiMauro noted that Morse had a lengthy criminal record spanning decades that includes prior convictions for burglary and sexual assault. Disregarding Morse’s pleas for leniency she said, “Mr. Morse used his children for five years to get money…and is now using them to try and avoid the consequences of his conduct. The court is not going to let him use his children and his medical condition as an excuse not to hold him responsible.”
Vermont’s False Claims Act: VT Can Pay Medicaid Whistleblowers
Vermont is one of the newest states to pass a False Claims Act that can pay whistleblowers cash awards for information about Medicaid fraud. Enacted in 2015, the Vermont False Claims Act can pay whistleblowers up to 30% of whatever the state collects from wrongdoers.
The state Attorney General partners with private citizens to help stop Medicaid fraud in the Green Mountain state. Under Vermont’s new law, a private citizen can file a lawsuit in the name of the state if he or she has inside information about fraud involving state healthcare dollars. If the lawsuit is successful, the person filing the suit (called a whistleblower or “relator”) can receive up to 30% of whatever the government collects from the wrongdoers.
Nationwide, whistleblowers have helped the states collect hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from taxpayers. In the process, these whistleblowers also receive millions of dollars in award monies.
Whistleblowers provide a valuable public service by alerting authorities to fraud, theft and poor patient care. In a case like cases like that of Mr. Morse, their tips can prevent children from being denied the care they deserve. To find out more information about reporting healthcare fraud in Vermont, visit our Vermont Medicaid fraud information page or report online.