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Operator of addiction treatment centers in Mass., R.I. charged in multimillion dollar care fraud scheme

Authorities allege that patients suffering from substance use disorders were deprived of treatment they needed.

PROVIDENCE — The visits for opioid addiction treatment were supposed to last 45 minutes, but they were so perfunctory, authorities allege, that the supervisory counselor at the Providence-based chain earned the nickname “the five-minute queen.” And the fraud scheme was so brazen that Recovery Connection Centers of America once billed taxpayers for 28.5 hours of psychotherapy by a single counselor in one 24-hour day, prosecutors say.

Now, the company and its leaders are facing federal criminal charges. Recovery Connection Centers of America has locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and serves 1,600 to 1,800 patients in the two states who need therapy and medication for addiction treatment, authorities say.


Through the scheme, patients with substance use disorders were deprived of treatment they needed while private and federal health insurance programs were ripped off to the tune of millions of dollars, authorities allege.

“Today’s charges should serve notice that we are not going to stand by in the face of this kind of fraud that victimizes a vulnerable population by shortchanging them of critical help while defendants help themselves to federal taxpayers’ money in the process,” US Attorney Zachary Cunha said at a news conference in Providence announcing the charges.

Michael Brier, 60, of Newton, Mass., described in court documents as the owner and operator of the company, and Mi Ok Bruining, 62, of Warwick, R.I., the former supervisory counselor and alleged “five-minute queen,” were taken into custody Thursday, authorities said.

Brier, Bruining, and the company itself were charged in a criminal complaint with health care fraud, authorities said. Brier faces additional charges of aggravated identity theft, money laundering, and obstruction. Attorney information for the defendants was not available.

The charges come as Rhode Island grapples with historically high levels of fatal overdoses driven by an opioid epidemic that shows little sign of abating.


Authorities said Brier falsely purported to practice medicine and wrote prescriptions for suboxone using the names of doctors without their permission. Brier is not a doctor. In fact, he was a convicted tax cheat, prosecutors say. To cover his tracks, Brier signed a false and back-dated document, authorities say.

The center actually should never have opened, Cunha said: Brier used another person’s identity to apply for federal health care funding. He wouldn’t have been able to get that under his own name because of his record, authorities said.

The matter came to the attention of authorities through billing analysis, Cunha said. One of the red flags was the amount of billing, which on some days would have been impossible.

Authorities are working to seize Brier’s $2 million home in Newton, a 2020 Mercedes Benz, and a 2019 Lexus, as well as the company’s primary site on Wickenden Street in Providence, authorities said. Brier is accused of laundering millions in fraudulent proceeds through investment accounts, luxury cars, student loan payments, home renovations, and tens of thousands invested in an oceanfront resort in Panama. Authorities are also taking steps to seize bank accounts, some of which have more than $1 million.

Bruining was taken into custody at her Warwick home, authorities said. Authorities said they believe Bruining trained the chain’s counselors on how to fraudulently bill and instructed them to see patients for 5 to 10 minutes at most, even as insurance programs were paying for much more. According to charging documents, Bruining, in an interview with law enforcement, described her own way of counseling as checking with a patient to see if they relapsed. If the patient was in good shape, the appointment would be short — a “drive-by,” Bruining called it, according to authorities. Some patients interviewed by authorities said they never got the full 45 minutes of therapy, according to court records.


Joseph Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, said health care fraud costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year.

“Most reprehensible is the fact that these alleged crimes were carried out on the backs of our most vulnerable: those struggling with substance abuse dependencies seeking to get their lives back on track to become productive members in our communities,” Bonavolonta said.

In the wake of the law enforcement action, federal and state health authorities are working to make sure patients can continue to get therapy and medication treatment for opioid use disorder in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Rhode Island patients who need a prescription can call 401-606-5454, and patients who need behavioral health referrals can call 410-414-LINK.

Massachusetts patients who need a prescription can call 617-414-4175, and patients there who need of behavioral health referrals can call 800-327-5050 or use helplinema.com

The company’s website lists locations in Attleboro, Brockton, Burlington, Dartmouth, Dedham, Fall River, Hyannis, Natick, Pawtucket, Plymouth, Providence, Boston, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester.

Recovery Connection Centers of America is not affiliated with the Recovery Centers of America in Massachusetts, the latter company and federal officials said.


This story has been updated throughout with additional information.

Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.