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Chelmsford couple plead guilty in MassHealth fraud scheme exploiting homeless people

A Chelmsford couple pleaded guilty on Thursdaywith defrauding MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, by exploiting homeless people, according to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.

John Wachira, 56, and Joanne Wachira, 64, along with their home health company, Petra Health Care, pleaded guilty in Middlesex Superior Court to three counts of making Medicaid false claims, two counts of larceny over $1,200, and one count of Medicaid kickbacks, according to Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell’s office.

The couple was sentenced to 10 months of home confinement and three years probation, Campbell’s office said in a statement.

They were also ordered to pay $100,000 to the state’s Medicaid program and “to refrain from owning, operating, or working in billing for any medical provider that does business with federal or state healthcare programs,” the statement said.


The Wachiras were also ordered to have no contact with witnesses in their case, Campbell’s office said.

The couple was arrested and charged in connection to falsely billing the state’s Medicaid program in December 2019, the statement said.

Those charges alleged that from July 2015 through December 2017, the Wachiras recruited at least ten unhoused individuals to live in their house rent-free but under the condition that they be MassHealth members and sign up to receive Petra Health Care’s alleged home health care services, the statement said.

Prosecutors alleged that in order to stay at the house, “the individuals were required to sign false timesheets indicating that services like bathing, assistance getting dressed, and medication reminders, were being provided by Petra Health Care,” even though many of these services were not provided, Campbell’s office said.

The Wachiras and Petra Health Care falsely billed MassHealth for these services, the statement said.

In 2018, the Wachiras paid more than $217,000 in restitution and penalties to resolve unrelated allegations that the company failed to pay employees for overtime and travel time, the statement said.


“As thousands of Massachusetts residents continue to rely on Medicaid to receive critical healthcare services, we must ensure that such public resources are used to benefit those that need it — not to line off the pockets of those that cheat the system,” Campbell said. “My office will continue to stand up for the public interest, especially for our most vulnerable, by holding such bad actors accountable.”

Maeve Lawler can be reached at maeve.lawler@globe.com. Follow her @maeve_lawler.