Norman Lewis, one of the defendants in a Medicaid fraud case involving an area youth mentoring group, has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination after refusing his court-appointed lawyer and telling a judge that he will be represented by God and Jesus.
Judge Richard Gergel issued the order in advance of a jury trial scheduled to start Nov. 7 for Lewis and two family members – Lewis’ wife, Melanie, and his brother, Truman – who are accused of using their Helping Hands Youth and Family Services agency to fraudulently bill the federal Medicaid program for $8.9 million. The Lewis family then used that money to buy luxury automobiles, homes and other personal items, according to court documents.
Gergel, in his order, said there is “reasonable cause to believe that [Norman Lewis] may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent.”
The psychiatric examination is to determine whether Norman Lewis is competent to conduct his own defense and whether he understands the crimes he is accused of committing. The examination likely will be discussed during a pre-trial hearing scheduled for next month.
Gergel said in court documents that he is concerned about Norman Lewis’ mental health because he refused to review a 21-page indictment issued against him and his two family members. Norman Lewis told Gergel that he does not need to read the indictment because he is not guilty.
Norman Lewis “continued to believe that God and Jesus will provide his defense and that the acceptance of counsel would be against God’s will,” Gergel stated in his order.
Gergel said Norman Lewis seemed unconcerned about his pretrial hearings and had not filed any motions in his defense. In addition, Norman Lewis spoke during his arraignment hearing in June 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.”
The Helping Hands group run by the Lewises – which was a for-profit agency – is not affiliated with nonprofits with similar names, including Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach and South Strand Helping Hand.
Helping Hands Youth and Family Services had hundreds of clients at offices in Conway, Georgetown, Columbia and Rock Hill. Norman Lewis oversaw operations at the Georgetown office. Truman Lewis was the agency’s chief executive officer and Melanie Lewis was its human resources officer.
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 early last year, 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 early 2011, was supposed to provide mentoring services to low-income children with family or behavioral problems. The group’s local clients were referred to the agency by the state’s Department of Social Services and area school officials, even though the agency’s counselors were not licensed.
Helping Hands counselors told The Sun News last year 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
The Lewises each face one felony charge of conspiracy to commit Medicaid fraud, four felony charges of wire fraud and one felony charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.