The former medical director of a Bucks County drug rehab facility, charged in an insurance fraud scheme, was sentenced on Friday to 37 months in federal prison.
Domenick Braccia of Perkasie pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health-care fraud during his employment with Liberation Way, the now-defunct Yardley facility that prosecutors have said trapped patients in a cycle of sub-par treatment and near-inevitable relapse, while billing insurance companies for millions in care that was never provided.
Earlier this year, a state grand jury found that many patients’ insurance plans were fraudulently secured by Liberation Way itself. The company illegally paid some clients’ premiums for “platinum” health plans that allowed Liberation Way to bill insurance companies for high-cost, out-of-network reimbursements.
Braccia, a part-owner of the company who invested in Liberation Way early on, admitted to submitting millions of dollars’ worth of fraudulent insurance claims, and prosecutors said he signed blank prescriptions and ordered treatment for patients he never saw.
He also leased the company a home he owned in North Wales, which became one of several sober homes run by Liberation Way. Prosecutors and patients said in court Friday that those homes were plagued by lax supervision, drug use, and inappropriate sexual relationships between clients and staff.
In August, company cofounder Jason Gerner pleaded guilty to spearheading a wide-ranging fraud scheme that exploited patients and bilked insurance companies. His partner in cofounding Liberation Way, Dallas Fetterman, died of a drug overdose in 2017.
On Friday, before federal judge Wendy Beetlestone, federal prosecutor Nancy Winters called witnesses to the stand who said that Liberation Way’s shoddy care had upended their lives and stalled their recovery from addiction.
A mother of two spoke of staying at Liberation Way for three months as part of court-ordered drug treatment. Staffers promised they would secure her insurance, she said.
An initial physical showed that she was suffering from hepatitis C, and she was sent to a local hospital for an ultrasound to assess damage to her liver, she told the court. But she never received any follow-up care, she said.
“I ended up sitting around. We did nothing,” she said.
The woman’s credit was ruined after she was sent bills for thousands of dollars in unnecessary urinalysis tests, part of a kickback scheme that prosecutors say further enriched Liberation Way executives, she said.
Marybeth Ehrlacher told the court that she paid for an expensive insurance policy at the behest of Liberation Way staffers so her son, Anthony Dennings, could attend for several months. Braccia billed insurance companies for $198,000 worth of care in Dennings’ name, Winters said.
But Ehrlacher said her son called the treatment “a joke."
“He was getting worse. Every time I saw him, he was more depressed," she said.
After Ehrlacher pulled him from the facility, she told the court, Dennings began taking Vivitrol shots from another doctor to block the effects of opioids, and seemed to be doing well.
But in September 2017, he died of an overdose. He was 25.
After her son died, Ehrlacher said, she was also sent bills for his urinalysis tests at Liberation Way.
Braccia apologized on Friday to his own family and to the patients testifying.
“I now realize that my motivation in my investment, and to make money, outweighed my main job” — to take care of patients, he said.
In letters to the court, Braccia’s family described him as a religious man committed to his family, who selflessly offered medical help — including to a niece who suffers from addiction.
Though Winters asked for Beetlestone to sentence Braccia to three years and 10 months in federal prison — the higher end of the court’s sentencing guidelines — Beetlestone opted for three years and one month, as his lawyer, Michael Schwartz, had requested.
“Dr. Braccia fully accepts responsibility for being involved in a serious crime. He knew that the crime was going to require jail,” Schwartz said in an interview.
Braccia has already paid more than $2 million in restitution over the fraudulent insurance claims. He will also be required to pay a $15,000 fine, serve a year on probation, and complete 150 hours of community service.