The owner of a Niagara Falls taxicab company and four of his employees face felony charges after their arrests Thursday for an alleged Medicaid transportation scam that cost taxpayers more than $50,000.
Wego Taxi Tours billed the state for rides to and from medical appointments for Medicaid clients, but did not actually provide the rides, according to State Attorney's General's Office.
In some cases, the company allegedly paid Medicaid recipients to report fake addresses so the company could bill for more mileage.
Pleading not guilty in Niagara Falls City Court were Wego owner Sadat Khan, 29, corporate secretary Kashif Pervez, 36, and drivers Marcus Mathis, 41, Chester Haugabook, 48, and William Medina, 35.
Judge Danielle M. Restaino set $1,000 bail for Mathis and for Haugabook and released the other three men on their own recognizance.
The arrests come as part of "Operation Ghost Ride," a statewide investigation of fraud in the Medicaid transportation program.
The Medicaid program allows clients who have medical appointments but lack transportation to call for a ride from an approved service, with Medicaid paying for the ride.
The Attorney General's Office accused Khan and Pervez of falsely telling Medical Answering Services, the company hired by the state as the transportation manager for Western New York, that they drove various Medicaid recipients to and from their medical appointments.
Some of the recipients for whom Wego billed allegedly were not picked up or dropped off by the company. In some cases, false addresses were reported that were farther away from the medical facility than the clients' real pick-up locations would have been, thus allegedly padding the mileage.
The Attorney General's Office said the excess charges totaled more than $50,000.
The three Wego drivers are accused of paying Medicaid clients to report false pick-up addresses so the company could bill Medicaid for rides that allegedly never occurred.
The three drivers each allegedly ran up more than $7,500 in fraudulent Medicaid billings for Wego, figures which were included in the company's total of more than $50,000 in alleged thefts.
Calls to Khan and his attorney, Anthony J. Lana, were not returned Thursday. A court official said Lana also represented Mathis at the arraignment. Attorney Justin Ginter represented Medina, while Haugabook and Pervez were given time to hire attorneys.
Operation Ghost Ride resulted in local convictions this past summer.
In July, 716 Transportation of the Town of Tonawanda and its president, Wossen Ambaye, pleaded guilty in a Medicaid ride scam similar to what authorities charged Wego with. Ambaye received a conditional discharge and was ordered to repay $900,000 to the state, plus a $10,000 fine.
On Sept. 28, one of the company's drivers, Haimid "Mookie" Thompson, 48, of Jamestown, was sentenced to two to four years in prison because of his prior felony record. He will owe $23,000 in restitution after his release.