A federal jury convicted a 47-year-old Brunswick woman earlier this month after being accused of being part of a $4 million scheme upon the Georgia Medicaid program.
U.S. attorneys said Schella Logan Hope was convicted of various health care fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering offenses for her role in the scheme.
According to evidence presented during the trial, Hope was a licensed dietician who ran a business located in Brunswick, known as Hope Nutritional Services.
From 2005 through 2011, authorities said Hope stole the identities of thousands of needy children between the ages of 0 and 5 that were enrolled in Head Start programs located throughout the state of Georgia.
Once Hope obtained the identities of these children, officials said Hope fabricated patient files, falsified prescriptions from doctors and submitted $4 million worth of claims to Medicaid for nutritional services that were not provided.
Hope then used the money she stole from Medicaid to pay for luxury automobiles, designer clothing and vacations, among other things, according to U.S. attorneys.
"Defendant Hope preyed upon American taxpayers by stealing the identities of low-income Georgia families and then billing Medicaid for over $4 million in nutrition services that were never provided," said U.S. attorney Edward J. Tarver. "This United States Attorney's Office will continue its efforts to prosecute all who seek to defraud American taxpayers by scamming federal programs. Because of Ms. Hope's criminal efforts to feed her extravagant lifestyle, she will have to rely upon the federal prison system for her own nutritional services."
Coconspirator Arlene Murrell pled guilty before Hope's trial to her role in the scheme. Authorities said Murrell testified against Hope at the trial and detailed how she helped Hope commit the fraud.
"The Head Start Program provides many of our nation's children with invaluable services and opportunities," said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Atlanta Regional Office. "To use the Head Start Program as a vehicle to submit false and fraudulent claims to the Medicaid system is unacceptable and the OIG will continue to pursue these kinds of egregious cases."
Hope was convicted of 58 counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Upon her convictions for these offenses, Chief Judge Wood remanded Hope to the custody of the U.S. Marshals pending sentencing in the case.
At sentencing, authorities said Hope faces 10 years in prison for each of the 17 health care fraud offenses, 20 years in prison for the various money laundering offenses and two years consecutive prison sentences for each of the various aggravated identity theft offenses. Hope also faces up to three years of supervised release and may be ordered to pay restitution to the victims in this case.