Friday, April 18, 2003

Felix aide guilty
of medical fraud

The former Kailua football
coach admits charging for
services he did not perform

By Debra Barayuga

A therapeutic aide billed the state for services he provided to a special-needs student in Hawaii while the child was with his parents in Las Vegas.

In another instance, the aide claimed he provided services to the same student during an entire Christmas break on Oahu when in fact the child's mother had taken off from work to care for her child and confirmed he never received any services.

The aide, Warren Johnson Jr., 39, pleaded guilty yesterday to five counts of medical assistance fraud, two counts of attempted medical assistance fraud and nine counts of second-degree forgery.

Johnson, a former assistant football coach at Kailua High, admitted to falsely billing the state for therapeutic services he never rendered and that he had forged the parents' signatures verifying that the services had been provided so he could get paid.

The student was eligible for the services under the Felix consent decree, a federal court order that requires the state to provide mental health and educational services to students with disabilities and special needs.

Johnson is alleged to have submitted seven bills totaling a little more than $4,000 between April 2001 and January 2002 to Nursefinders Inc., which provides therapists to the Felix program, said Deputy Attorney General Christopher Young.

The fraud was uncovered after the student's mother complained to a counselor at Windward Family Center, which oversees the implementation of services, that Johnson was not seeing her child, Young said. The counselor investigated and confirmed Johnson was not with the student when he was supposed to be.

When asked by Circuit Judge Michael Town why he submitted false bills, Johnson said he had been under a lot of stress and that he was pleading guilty so he could put the matter behind him.

Johnson will be sentenced July 2. He is expected to seek a deferral of his guilty plea, which could enable him to erase the convictions from his record.

Each of the counts against Johnson is punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Young said the attorney general's office has not yet decided whether to seek prison time for Johnson.

As of last season, Johnson was a volunteer assistant football coach at Kailua High, where his brother is head coach. Johnson is no longer associated with the sports program until the criminal matter is resolved, said Mel Imai, Kailua's athletic director.

In a related matter, another therapeutic aide, who pleaded no contest last July to 10 counts of fraudulently billing the state for $1,800 in services she never provided, has been indicted on additional counts involving other children.

Susan Puapuaga, 28, waived indictment yesterday and pleaded not guilty to a complaint charging her with four counts of medical assistance fraud and four counts of second-degree theft.

She allegedly billed for services she claimed she provided to four Honolulu District students between February and August 2001. The total theft involved in her case is about $18,000, Young said.


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