Former Temecula physician sentenced to 93 months for Medicare billing fraud – San Bernardino Sun

A former Temecula doctor was sentenced Thursday, April 28, to nearly eight years in federal prison for defrauding Medicare and jeopardizing patient safety in varicose vein treatments.

Donald Woo Lee, 55, performed unnecessary vein ablation procedures and reused contaminated catheters on patients, which put them at risk of infection and other bodily injury. He also submitted false declarations in a bankruptcy proceeding, according to prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Former doctor Donald Woo Lee, 55, of Temecula was sentenced Thursday, April 28, 2022, to 93 months in federal prison for collecting $4.5 million from Medicare for unnecessary vein ablation procedures. (Courtesy Riverside County Sheriff’s Department)

A jury convicted Lee in October 2019. Federal prosecutors claimed that from August 2012 to August 2015, Lee billed Medicare $12.4 million for the unnecessary surgeries and was paid $4.5 million by the government health insurance program.

Lee was arrested in 2016 in a nationwide health fraud crackdown that federal authorities say involved 301 defendants and $900 million in false billings. He also had been implicated in a grand theft and money laundering case in 2014 involving fraudulent commercial loans.

Sentence compromise

Lee’s attorney, Thomas Ryu, said in a telephone interview Thursday that prosecutors initially wanted Lee to serve 10 years in federal prison, but settled for just under eight, making him eligible for parole in a little more than five years.

“Ultimately, it came down to 93 months. We got about a 25% reduction on the sentencing,” said Ryu, who along with attorney Joseph A. Weimortz Jr., defended Lee at trial.

According to the federal government, Lee recruited Medicare beneficiaries to his clinics, then falsely diagnosed them to get them to agree to the vein ablation treatments. He used inappropriate billing codes on his Medicare invoices to increase the amount he would be reimbursed, a practice known as “upcoding.”

Support from patients

Ryu said out of 333 patient files, investigators randomly selected 35 of those files from Lee for review, and only five patients testified at trial that the vein ablation procedures were unnecessary.

“The prosecution made it sound like every single one of the procedures were fraudulent,” Ryu said, adding that 140 of Lee’s patients signed letters supporting Lee, vouching for his honesty and trustworthiness.

“We have a letter from a former patient who said Lee saved her life with his varicose vein treatment because her feet were turning black,” Ryu said.

‘Confusion’ on Medicare billing

He said there was “a lot of confusion” on the Medicare billing issue, and that Lee was using the codes he believed were needed to cover the cost of both the catheters and the vein ablation surgeries.

“Medicare wanted doctors to use this one billing code which didn’t even cover the cost of the catheter,” Ryu said.

The court also took into consideration Lee’s pro-bono humanitarian works across the world, including medical missionary work in Burma, Ryu said.

Lee pleaded guilty on March 2, 2020, to one count of submitting false declarations in a bankruptcy proceeding. In addition to his prison term, Lee also must serve three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay more than $4.5 million in restitution to Medicare.

Following his conviction, and while he was awaiting sentencing, Lee allegedly assisted Newport Beach Dr. Jennifer “Jen” Armstrong, of the “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast, with facial thread lifts. Lee performed the procedures on at least one of Armstrong’s patients, even though his license was revoked and the patient was unaware of that fact, according to a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.

In an interview with the Southern California News Group in January, Lee denied having worked on any of Armstrong’s patients, but did say he trained Armstrong in cosmetic thread lift procedures in 2019 and early 2020.

“I went over there and I taught her how to do the training,” Lee said in January. “I have not done any procedures on patients. She did all the hands-on.”

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