The owner of a private ambulance company in Norfolk routinely drove sick patients to area doctor’s appointments without properly licensed health care providers on board, according to court documents.
The employees who Houman “Mike” Motii arranged to sit in the back often failed the tests necessary to serve as emergency medical technicians.
But that wasn’t Motii’s most egregious crime, prosecutors said. He and at least one other driver at Swift Medical Transport didn’t even have valid driver’s licenses.
“It is mind-boggling as to why Motii thought running an ambulance service without a driver’s license was either legal or appropriate,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Yusi wrote in court documents.
Motii, 37, was sentenced Thursday to 13 months in federal prison.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of only one year in prison and the defense requested house arrest, but U.S. District Judge Mark Davis said the facts of the case warranted more.
“I’m very concerned about some of this,” Davis said.
To the judge’s surprise, Swift remains in business. A woman who answered the phone Wednesday told The Virginian-Pilot Motii was “no longer affiliated with the company” before hanging up. Motii’s attorney said Thursday his client remained a co-owner.
Records filed with the state list Motii’s wife, Tiffany, as the company’s registered agent. She’s held the position since the firm was established in December 2014.
The health care fraud charge for which Motii pleaded guilty stemmed from a nearly $63,000 fraud scheme, in which Swift routinely over billed Medicare and Tricare for transporting patients to and from dialysis treatments and other appointments. The scheme stretched from April 2015 through April 2017, documents said.
In Virginia, a medical transport company like Swift must staff its ambulances with a minimum of two people: a driver and an “attendant-in-charge.” The driver must have a valid driver’s license and have completed an approved Emergency Vehicle Operator’s Course. The attendant, who is tasked with providing any emergency medical care that might be required during a trip, must also be appropriately certified.
For basic life support ambulances, the attendant must be certified as at least an EMT-Basic.
During the course of the fraud, Motii repeatedly billed Medicare and Tricare for trips in which he served as either the ambulance’s driver or attendant in charge even though his driver’s license had been suspended and he lacked any current EMT certification.
Motii also employed three attendants who had failed national EMT certification tests and at least one other driver who lacked a driver’s license.
From the stand Thursday, Special Agent Danita Lopes of Defense Criminal Investigative Service testified to several other issues the investigation uncovered. She said employees claimed the company’s ambulances were in generally bad condition and that they sometimes transported patients with either empty or nearly empty oxygen canisters.
Other employees recalled taking patients to appointments despite being unfamiliar with the ambulance’s defibrillator, she said. During one transport, a patient’s heart stopped and they had to divert to a nearby hospital because they couldn’t use the device.
Lopes also recounted two occasions where employees suspected drivers were intoxicated on duty, including one who missed an exit on a highway and responded by stopping the ambulance and backing up so he could make the turn.
“While Swift was not responding to 911 calls, they carried extremely sick patients that had a variety of medical issues and required specialized care,” Yusi wrote in court documents. “By ignoring these basic requirements of licenses and training, Motii put patients at risk of serious bodily injury or death.”
Lopes’ testimony prompted the judge to question how Swift was still allowed to operate.
Yusi responded that the company can no longer work with Medicare and Tricare but that she believed Swift was still allowed to bill Medicaid.
A spokeswoman for the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services said there was a “current, active and open compliance investigation” underway, but declined to comment further. Officials with Virginia’s Medicaid program did not respond Thursday to a request.
Defense attorney James Broccoletti said it was his client’s understanding all of his employees had passed a state exam even if they had failed a necessary national exam. All of them also were certified to perform CPR, he said.
Broccoletti stressed his client—a father of five—now realizes his decision to cut corners to grow his business were “short-sighted and frankly, unnecessary.”
Speaking in his own defense, Motii, who has already made full restitution, blamed his current legal problems on his personal laziness and sloppiness. Previously certified as an EMT in Maryland, he said he started Swift with no management experience and didn’t know what he was doing. He said he has since handed over the reigns to another employee while he takes care of his kids.
Yusi stressed in court Motii’s record was far from pristine, noting it includes convictions for animal cruelty and abuse of a family member. She said he also has three convictions for driving without a license.
Yusi argued the best way to deter him and others from breaking the law was a jail sentence, and even then she wasn’t sure it would work.
“Because of the brazen and dangerous way the defendant has been involved with fraud, it is unclear whether the defendant will engage in any crimes in the future,” she said.