Maxcine Darville, Joanne Carter: The Council on Aging of Florida leaders charged in Medicaid fraud

TALLAHASSEE -- Two top executives at a nursing-home management company were arrested on charges that they used $2.75 million in Medicaid money for excessive salaries and personal expenses, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced Tuesday.

Maxcine Darville, chief executive officer of the Council on Aging of Florida, and her daughter, Joanne Carter, the assistant CEO, were each charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud, a first-degree felony, Bondi's office said. The Council on Aging of Florida, a non-profit, manages nursing homes in Gainesville, Pahokee and Bradenton, along with an assisted-living facility in Bradenton, according to its website.

An affidavit filed by an investigator in the attorney general's office alleged that Darville, Carter and another of Darville's children, Gary Watson, received $1.8 million in excessive salaries from 2006 to 2011. Also, the affidavit detailed payments for such things as Cadillacs, a BMW and a house owned by Darville.

"We will not allow those who are entrusted with providing legitimate Medicaid services and accurately billing the program to exploit the system," Bondi said in a prepared statement.

Attorneys Robert Griscti, who represents Darville, and Mark Seiden, who represents Carter, released a statement Tuesday saying the women turned themselves in after a warrant was filed and that they were released on bond.

"During the period of the investigation, both Ms. Darville and Ms. Carter voluntarily cooperated with state authorities and will continue to do so. However, they both strongly deny any wrongdoing and intend to fight the case until they are exonerated and their good names are cleared,'' the statement said.

The affidavit, filed last week by attorney general's office investigator John Meyer, said Darville and Carter exercised "complete control" over the Council on Aging of Florida, the three nursing homes and an apartment complex that also plays a role in the case.

As examples of the personal expenses flagged by investigators were $1,200 monthly payments to Darville for a house she owned in High Springs. She said the house was used for employees who travel to the Gainesville nursing home, a 180-bed facility called the Gainesville Health Care Center.

The affidavit also said the Pahokee nursing home, the Glades Health Care Center, paid for a Cadillac for Darville and a BMW for Carter and that the Gainesville facility paid for a Cadillac for Carter. Along with the cars, investigators found that Darville, Carter and Watson each received $1,000 a month in travel expenses and also had corporate credit cards that were used to buy gasoline and meals.

"There were numerous expenses paid at the direction of Darville and Carter that were determined to be fraudulent,'' the affidavit said. "The expenses were paid for the personal benefit of Darville, Carter and/or Watson."

If convicted, Darville and Carter could each face up to 30 years in prison and $10,000 fines, Bondi's office said. The Council on Aging of Florida is not affiliated with the Florida Council on Aging, a prominent advocacy group.

The affidavit says about 80 percent of the patients at the Gainesville, Pahokee and Bradenton nursing homes are Medicaid beneficiaries. Nursing homes can only receive Medicaid reimbursements for what are determined to be "allowable costs"

The Palm Beach Post reported as far back as 2009 about questions surrounding the salaries and expenses of Darville and Carter. The Post reported that the attorney general's office began an investigation in January 2010.

The state also is a plaintiff in a sealed civil lawsuit against the Council on Aging of Florida and related organizations known as the Bradenton Council on Aging LLC, the Okeechobee Council on Aging, Inc., and the Gainesville Council on Aging, Inc., according to an online docket in Leon County.

While details are not available, the docket makes reference to a state law dealing with false claims for payment. That can involve a whistleblower's complaint, known in legal parlance as a "qui tam" case.

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