Four women, including the owner of a Gwinnett County nonprofit, are accused of scamming disabled adults out of money they were entitled to through the Georgia Medicaid program.
Jennifer Lynn Robinette owns Wishes 4 Me Foundation, Inc., which advertises itself as providing “structured living for adults with disabilities” and helping “disabled adults live a more active lifestyle, according to its website.
Robinette and three other employees were indicted on several charges, including racketeering, medical fraud and conspiracy to defraud the state, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office said in a news release Thursday.
Prosecutors allege that the nonprofit was funded “almost entirely by defrauding the Independent Care Waiver Program (ICWP),” which is a Georgia Medicaid program intended to help disabled adults live in their homes more independently, the release said.
Robinette is accused of assuming control of her residents’ participation in the program by forging their names on documents submitted to the Department of Community Health instead of allowing them to hire and schedule their own caregivers, the release said.
Those caregivers, which are required to provide personal support services on a one-to-one basis, are paid directly with Georgia Medicaid funds, the release said. In addition, she allegedly forged time sheets that were submitted to Acumen Fiscal Agent, LLC, which is a payroll services company contracted with the program.
The three employees, Tonya Joy Ward, 62, Bethany Braga, 41, and Ronnika Barton, 42, also allegedly participated in the scheme, signing and submitting fake time sheets despite not providing one-to-one personal support services, the release said. Instead, the caregivers were allegedly instructed by Robinette to provide services to multiple residents at a time, working in shifts.
Ward, Braga and Barton all turned themselves in to the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, but Robinette’s arrest is still pending, the release said. Ward, Braga and Barton are all out of the Gwinnett County Jail on a $5,700 bond, jail records show.
The release accuses the four of not only billing “the Georgia Medicaid program for more hours than they actually spend with each resident, but also (being) paid more than the hourly rate of pay for caregivers within the ICWP.”
Robinette also allegedly assumed control of residents’ bank accounts and identifying information, using them to obtain additional funds for Wishes 4 Me and herself through bank transfers, the release said.
She allegedly sent money to her other businesses, Star Vacations, Inc. and Accounting Options, Inc. in addition to using their information to apply for other state benefit programs, such as the Georgia Food Stamp Program, without their knowledge.
They all face two counts of Violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), four counts of Medicaid fraud and eight counts of exploitation of a disabled adult, the release said. Robinette, Ward and Braga face an additional count of conspiracy to defraud the state and four counts of first-degree forgery. Robinette was also charged with 19 counts of false writings.
In December, the nonprofit was the center of a national story when a 22-year-old Johns Creek man with autism died after falling overboard on a Carnival cruise ship, AJC.com previously reported. Luke Renner was traveling in a group of nine, which included three Wishes 4 Me chaperones.
The Office of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Division and the Gwinnett County Police Department investigated the alleged fraud. Attorney General Amanda E. Love is prosecuting the case.
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