Former director of NE Philly hospice provider sentenced in Medicare fraud scheme

Posted: June 23, 2014

A VETERAN federal prosecutor passionately told a judge yesterday that Alex Pugman, a leading defendant in a Medicare fraud case, "was without a doubt the most exceptional cooperator I have worked with."

Pugman, who was the director and co-owner of the now-defunct Home Care Hospice in Northeast Philly, helped explain the roles of other participants in the scheme, pointed out the fraud in the agency's records, and testified at two grand juries and at three trials, Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Ercole said.

That wasn't all. Pugman also helped the government identify fraud in the health-care industry outside of his agency, she said.

Pugman, 42, of Churchville, Bucks County, ran the day-to-day operations of Home Care Hospice, a hospice provider. He and another defendant, Matthew Kolodesh, also of Churchville and co-owner of the agency, shared 50-50 in its profits.

From 2003 to October 2008, they and others at the agency falsely billed Medicare for $16.2 million in claims.

Given his extensive cooperation, Ercole asked the judge for a substantial downward departure from the guideline-sentence range of about seven to nine years in prison for Pugman. But she also said the massive scale of the fraud meant he should serve some prison time.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno agreed, sentencing Pugman to two years, nine months behind bars. Pugman was ordered to pay restitution, with others, of $16.2 million.

This case "is really a cry for Congress to investigate the breathtaking fraud" in the Medicare system, the judge said.

Pugman, who came to this country in 1991 from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union at age 19, was described by his sister, parents and friends as a loving father to his three minor children, a devoted husband and a compassionate caregiver to hospice patients.

When his sister talked about how important his children are to him, Pugman began sobbing loudly, putting his hands to his face, prompting the judge to call for a 10-minute break.

Ercole said Pugman has been "vilified" by some people in the Eastern European community in this area for "telling the truth."

The judge said he hopes that over time, people will understand that Pugman cooperated with the feds "to clean up the den of corruption in the industry."

Pugman, who pleaded guilty in May 2012 to conspiracy to commit health-care fraud, apologized for what he did. "It was never my intention to defraud this country," he said. "I regret, am deeply ashamed of my actions."

Ercole said that Pugman has previously testified that "greed" motivated his fraud.

"This greed was at the public's expense," she said.

Defense attorney Eric Sitarchuk said that during the period of the fraud scheme, most of the claims filed by Home Care Hospice were real. "There was "real work on real patients, and real billing," he said.

Pugman, a registered nurse, will have to give up his nursing license, Sitarchuk said.

Kolodesh, who went to trial and was convicted by a jury of health-care fraud, conspiracy to commit health-care fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, was sentenced last month by Robreno to 14 years, eight months in prison.

Pugman's wife, Svetlana Ganetsky, who was the development executive at Home Care Hospice, pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal audit and was sentenced by Robreno on Thursday to a year and a day in prison.

Sitarchuk, who also represents the wife, asked the judge for Ganetsky and Pugman to serve staggered sentences so one parent can be home with their children when the other is in prison. Robreno seemed amenable and said he would discuss it with attorneys next week.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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