The leaders of a former youth mentoring agency that had offices in Conway and Georgetown were found guilty Friday of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering and four counts of wire fraud following a week-long jury trial in federal court in Charleston.
Truman Levi Lewis of Charlotte, N.C., and Norman Devi Lewis of Georgetown – who operated the for-profit Helping Hands Youth and Family Services agency – fraudulently billed the federal Medicaid program for $9 million over a 22-month period, according to evidence in the trial. The two men each face prison sentences of up to 10 years for the health care fraud charge, 20 years for the money laundering charge and 20 years for each of the wire fraud charges. They will be sentenced by Judge Richard Gergel at a later date.
In addition, the government plans to seize property the Lewises purchased with proceeds of the Medicaid fraud, including two Bentley automobiles, three Mercedes automobiles, two homes, more than $600,000 in certificates of deposit and bank accounts and numerous other cars, according to U.S Attorney Bill Nettles.
Helping Hands, which is not affiliated with area charities with similar names, also had offices in Rock Hill and Columbia.
Evidence during the trial showed Helping Hands billed the Medicaid program for weekends when children were not seen, for periods of time before children were in the program and for periods of time after the children had left the program. The agency also billed for children who had no diagnosis to justify the billing as well as other fraudulent billings.
In addition to evidence and testimony during the trial, Norman Lewis’ lawyer attempted to halt the proceedings at one point by asking for a second mental evaluation for his client. Gergel denied the request and the trial continued.
Norman Lewis underwent a psychiatric exam in December after courtroom outbursts in which he said he wanted to be represented by God and Jesus rather than a court-appointed defender. Norman Lewis also spoke during an arraignment hearing last year about more than 100 songs and poems he has written about his work with Helping Hands, “doing so in a manner that left the court concerned with the defendant’s mental capacity,” Gergel said while ordering Norman Lewis to undergo a psychiatric examination.
The December psychiatric exam showed Norman Lewis was competent to stand trial, although he repeatedly refused to meet with his probation officer or assist in his defense while awaiting trial.
Helping Hands had hundreds of clients, many of them referred by area school districts and social services agencies. An eight-month investigation into Helping Hands started in 2010 with a confidential complaint to state officials alleging that the agency’s counselors were not licensed and that some Lewis family members had criminal records.
The Internal Revenue Service served search warrants on the Helping Hands offices in 2011, when the government seized nearly $1.2 million in cash and certificates of deposit that Lewis family members had at area banks as well as two homes and 10 automobiles, including an $89,000 Bentley and a $55,900 Mercedes.
Helping Hands, which closed for good in 2011, was supposed to provide mentoring services to low-income children with family or behavioral problems. Helping Hands counselors told The Sun News that agency leaders overloaded them with clients to increase the amount of Medicaid billings. The counselors said agency leaders told them to report hours spent with clients even if they had not been with the children, and told them to falsify reports sent to Medicaid.
Bank records included in court documents show Helping Hands billed Medicaid a steadily increasing amount starting in January 2009, when the agency received $13,500 from the federal health program. By April 2010, Helping Hands was billing Medicaid for $1 million per month.
During that same period, Lewis family members started transferring funds from the agency’s bank account to their personal accounts, according to court documents.
Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281.