Two men were indicted this week for allegedly running a scam in which they preyed on New England residents searching for addiction recovery help, offering to hook them up with top notch treatment in sunny Florida, but sending them off to questionable facilities on false insurance policies.
Their promises were lies, and they received payouts for their referrals, according to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
A state grand jury issued indictments this week against Michael “Hiss” Hislop, 56, who grew up in Dorchester and spent a decade mentoring people through Alcoholics Anonymous, and New Hampshire insurance agent Timothy Hirsch, 38. They are each charged with nine counts of larceny over $250 and filing a false health care application or claim.
The attorney general’s office confirmed it was conducting a criminal probe into the scheme in late 2017, shortly after The Boston Globe and STAT published an investigation into a sprawling national network of insurance fraud in which drug users were recruited by “patient brokers” to go to treatment in other states to exploit their benefit payments.
Reporters identified Hislop as having been part of a scheme to send 33-year-old Peter SanAngelo of Malden down to Florida, where he died of an overdose after his benefits were abruptly canceled. Monday’s indictments do not include charges related to SanAngelo’s alleged brokering or his death.
The charges paint a picture of profiteers who saw America’s opioid crisis as a personal boon, raking in cash to send fragile, hopeful people far from their homes and support systems to facilities that often offered little in the way of real treatment and frequently kicked them out.
“People with substance use disorder deserve quality treatment options that are safe and effective,” Healey said in a statement. “As the opioid epidemic continues to plague our communities, we’re not going to let patients and their families be exploited and have their pain further compounded. These indictments are an important step toward holding accountable those who are taking advantage of this growing public health crisis.”
Reached for comment Thursday, Hislop declined to speak with a reporter. “I was never involved in anything like that, I’ll see you later, thank you,” he said, before hanging up. Hirsch could not be reached for comment.
The attorney general’s investigation found that Hislop was paid by Florida facilities to produce patients. Hislop allegedly recruited patients at substance use disorder meetings in Massachusetts and conspired with Hirsch to write up false and misleading insurance policies with fake addresses on their behalf, according to prosecutors. The facility in Florida would then bill insurance companies for the treatment.
The insurance companies — Minuteman Health and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care — paid out about $730,000 in insurance claims as a result of the scheme, according to a statement from Healey’s office.
Hislop and Hirsch allegedly obtained the policies by claiming the people they had recruited had moved into Massachusetts, which allowed them to qualify for a policy outside of the open enrollment period. Once the policies were issued, according to prosecutors, Hislop paid for plane tickets to Florida and monthly insurance premiums.
Hislop gave a series of interviews to the Globe and STAT in 2017, in which he admitted his involvement in patient brokering, but claimed he didn’t realize that it was illegal, and said he left the business at the end of 2016.
“We were blind to a lot of things when we were doing it, and then we stopped,” Hislop said at the time. “That’s all I can do, what else can I do? If I have to accept responsibility for something, then I would have to do that as an adult, as a sober adult.”
Hislop acknowledged his company, Barnowl Treatment Options LLC, sent 55 to 60 people down to Florida in 2016. In turn, marketers for the treatment centers paid him $500 to $1,000 for each patient, and he was incentivized for sending groups, he said.
Hislop also told reporters he took part in a scheme to send a homeless Massachusetts father into a supposed luxury rehab program. But right after Peter SanAngelo arrived, his insurance plan was canceled, he left the program, and he relapsed and overdosed. He was found dead in a van in Florida on Oct. 16, 2016, alone with a needle in his pocket.
SanAngelo’s cousin, Samatha Herring, who has spent years pushing authorities to investigate, said she was grateful that Hislop was being held accountable.
“Peter’s life matters,” she said. “People recover every day from addiction, and his opportunity was taken from him with false hope.”
Hislop has also implicated others in the alleged patient brokering scheme. He told reporters in 2017 that he paid for between 15 and 25 referrals from Daniel Cleggett, a South Shore man who has been the subject of two Globe and STAT investigations, one into his alleged patient brokering and another for running a troubled ring of sober homes.
Cleggett, who did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, has not been charged. Healey’s office said it did investigate him.