By Chad Terhune
9:00 AM EST, January 29, 2013
A former clinic owner in the Los Angeles area has made Medicare's list of most-wanted fugitives after bilking the federal program for $1.2 million, authorities said.
Federal investigators said Won Suk Lee, 44, was an acupuncturist and owner of two medical clinics in Huntington Park who billed Medicare for $2.1 million in false claims and got paid $1.2 million.
Lee fled to South Korea after an arrest warrant was issued last year, said Steve Ryan, assistant special agent in charge in Los Angeles for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general.
Ryan said that from 2009 to 2011, Lee used a physical therapy clinic as a front to bill for services, such as acupuncture and massage, that are not covered by Medicare.
"There's such a large amount of money in Medicare that it continues to be a very attractive target for people who want to steal and commit fraud," Ryan said.
"We have made some headway. We're very focused on getting these people cut off as soon as possible to stop the bleeding. This is a financial crime and taxpayer money," he added.
Ryan said the inspector general's office is monitoring for other potential fraud and abuse in Medicare's Part D prescription drug benefit and in home-health services, among other areas. Federal healthcare investigators are also trying to better analyze data, similar to what credit card companies do, to detect fraud sooner, he said.
The HHS inspector general's office launched its most-wanted list in 2011, and 41 fugitives have been captured thus far. There are more than 170 fugitives on the list, officials said.