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Ex-Aspire facilitator admits to Medicaid fraud

A former Medicaid services coordinator for the Aspire of Western New York service agency for the developmentally disabled pleaded guilty Tuesday to Medicaid fraud.

Kelly Ann Strade, 35, of Claremont Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, admitted to grand larceny and filing false business records as part of a plea deal. Prosecutors also will try to require Aspire to repay the state the $94,696.97 the agency paid to Strade.

State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang told a tearful Strade that she will spare her a jail term when she returns to court for sentencing Sept. 4. But in addition to facing five years of probation, Strade will be required to sign a confession of judgment, making her responsible for repaying Aspire. The judge could also order her to perform community service.

Gary A. Baldauf, chief of the state attorney general's local Medicaid Fraud Control Bureau, said Strade lied on her job application to Aspire three years ago when she said she had a nursing degree.

Baldauf said Aspire will have to repay the taxpayer-funded health care operation and receive restitution from Strade.

However, Shannon M. Welty, Aspire public relations and marketing coordinator, emphasized that the plea deal was between the State of New York and Strade and that Aspire "was not a party" to the deal.

Welty added: "Aspire will continue to cooperate with the state and negotiate a settlement that fairly reflects the value of the services provided by Ms. Strade to her clients." She stressed that "Aspire has not agreed to repay the state the sum of $94,696.97."

Told of Welty's comments, Baldauf said the attorney general's office is prepared "to work it out with Aspire on the billing debt because they, not Strade, got the money and they, not Strade, did the billing."

Baldauf said that because of Strade's deception, Aspire was improperly reimbursed by Medicaid for nearly $95,000 from January 2004 through March 2006, including one instance when Strade falsely said she had an interview in Batavia with a Medicaid-eligible client.

John P. Liberti, Strade's attorney, said his client never personally benefited from Medicaid fraud. He said her guilty plea stemmed from her "having lied" on her job application.

Baldauf said Aspire officials notified the state of the financial problems concerning Strade after terminating her employment last year.

The state prosecutor said Strade falsely told Aspire officials in January 2004 that she had the nursing degree required for a Medicaid services coordinator's job. She falsely claimed a nursing degree from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., Baldauf said.

Strade declined to comment.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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