LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Federal prosecutors were recommending that husband-and-wife pastors of a now defunct South Los Angeles church be sentenced today to more than a dozen years behind bars each for operating a power wheelchair fraud scheme that bilked Medicare out of about $6.6 million.
Christopher Iruke, 60, and his 49-year-old wife, Connie Ikpoh, were found guilty in August of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and multiple counts of health care fraud in a scheme that involved more than $14 million in illegitimate Medicare claims, according to the Justice Department.
Iruke and Ikpoh were pastors at Arms of Grace Christian Center on Crenshaw Boulevard, where the couple also ran Pascon Medical Supply, prosecutors said. The pair hired employees to help run the operation.
Beginning in 2002, Iruke, Ikpoh and associates billed Medicare nearly $6,000 apiece for high-end power wheelchairs that cost about $900 wholesale, prosecutors told the jury during a two-week trial in Los Angeles federal court.
Iruke’s companies filed for $14.2 million in claims and collected about $6.6 million in reimbursements, prosecutors said.
The money was used to bankroll a lifestyle of luxury cars, international travel, and nearly half a million dollars of remodeling on the couple’s Baldwin Hills home, prosecutors alleged at trial.
Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter, Jr., to sentence Iruke to 16 years in federal prison and put his wife behind bars for more than 12 years, according to court papers.
The couple “were persistent and brazen in their efforts to steal millions from the Medicare program,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the DOJ’s Criminal Division said.
“They opened four different companies to perpetrate their fraud, recruited parishioners from their church and others to help carry it out, and then used the spoils to buy fancy cars and other luxuries,” he said. “In short, they treated the Medicare program like a personal till.”