AG Bondi investigating program that counsels at-risk students

MCUSA subject of previous I-TEAM investigation over claims of unpaid wages

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has opened a Medicaid fraud investigation into one of the biggest providers of mental health counseling in public schools statewide, including some schools in Northeast Florida.

The investigation into Motivational Coaches of America, or MCUSA, comes as it faces a class action lawsuit filed by counselors who accuse the company of withholding wages for services the counselors provided.

MCUSA supplies behavioral health professionals to help at-risk students at schools in Clay and Duval counties, in addition to 10 other school districts across the state. St. Johns County had a contract with the company, but the I-TEAM learned the district recently terminated that contract.

"We have an active and ongoing Medicaid fraud investigation and cannot comment any further at this time," Bondi spokesperson Kylie Mason wrote in a statement provided Tuesday to the I-TEAM.

Julio Avael, the company's chief executive officer, did not return multiple calls Tuesday seeking comment on the investigation.

MCUSA generates most of its profits from insurance payments. In fact, it collected more than $400,000 from Medicaid in the past two years, state records show.

The parents of students who receive counseling submit paperwork allowing MCUSA to bill Medicaid. Coaches accumulate engagement points for each 15 minutes spent with a sponsored child, either in a group or one on one. Coaches are expected to earn 69 of those points per day at about $3 a point, which is about $215 a day. The company then pays its coaches.

But at least one local motivational coach told the I-TEAM that MCUSA hasn’t paid her for the work she did on its behalf. She said she's lost nearly everything as a result.

"I've been living off credit cards and I've moved in with family members because I lost my apartment," the coach said. "I've taken up odd jobs to make money."

Coaches also shared internal emails from other motivational coaches who alleged they too were stiffed by the company.

"Try missing $2,106 this paycheck, plus late pay from 02/01 - 02/15 and pay from Christmas, only to be repeatedly ignored concerning the issue," one coach wrote.

Another said: "I have a child that depends on me, and this situation has caused me a lot of frustration. I've worked my butt off to make the reputation of this company meet the standard of the school district, and I'm tired of getting paid late and receiving poor communication."

While Avael could not be reached for comment Tuesday, he disputed claims detailed in the lawsuit in a phone interview with the I-TEAM last week. He blamed the lack of payment on coaches who did not properly complete the paperwork required to get paid.

"There's not one person who has worked for MCUSA that hasn't been paid if they were in compliance," he said.‚Äč

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