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Chelmsford couple charged in Medicaid fraud case; accused of using homeless people in scam

A Chelmsford couple brazenly exploited the homeless as part of an alleged scheme to defraud the state’s Medicaid program, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office alleged Thursday.

The suspects, John Wachira, 52, and Joanne Wachira, 60, were indicted Dec. 9 and face arraignment Thursday in Middlesex Superior Court on charges related to the alleged scheme, Healey’s office said in a statement. It wasn’t immediately clear who’s representing the couple.

Prosecutors say the Wachiras operate Petra Health Care, a provider of in-home health services to patients. From July 2015 to December 2017, prosecutors allege, the couple recruited at least 10 homeless people to live in their house rent-free on the condition that they enroll in MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, and sign up to receive Petra’s purported services.

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The homeless tenants were allegedly compelled to sign time sheets falsely indicating they had received services such as bathing, assistance getting dressed, and medication reminders. The Wachiras then allegedly billed the state for the bogus services.

”We allege that these defendants took advantage of homeless individuals in order to steal from the state’s healthcare system,” Healey said in the statement. “Fighting home health care fraud is a priority for our Medicaid Fraud Division.”

Prosecutors allege the Wachiras took in $543,542.19 from the ruse.

They’ve been sanctioned before.

In 2018, the statement said, “they paid more than $217,000 in restitution and penalties to resolve allegations by the AG’s Fair Labor Division that the company failed to pay employees for overtime and travel time.”

In the current case, the Wachiras and their company face charges of Medicaid false claims, larceny over $1,200, and Medicaid kickbacks, according to Healey’s office.