Joplin group home owners convicted of health care fraud

Friday, October 1, 2010

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A Joplin couple who owned a southwest Missouri group home where 11 people died in a 2006 fire has been convicted of federal health care fraud.

Federal prosecutors announced late Thursday that Robert and LaVerne DuPont were each found guilty of one count of fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Robert DuPont was found not guilty of money laundering.

U.S. District Judge Greg Kays in Springfield delivered the verdicts 10 days after the couple appeared before him in court. Sentencing will occur at a later date.

Robert DuPont had previously been banned from Medicaid reimbursement because of a 2002 fraud conviction.

The couple's holdings included the Anderson Guest House for the mentally ill and handicapped, where a fire in November 2006 killed 10 residents and one employee. Fire investigators ruled out arson and blamed faulty wiring as the likely cause. No criminal charges were ever brought in connection with the blaze.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services subsequently stripped the facilities' licenses, and the group homes closed.

Prosecutors accused Robert DuPont of openly running the business from prison and after his release through the Joplin River of Life Ministries, the nonprofit group created in the aftermath of his first legal run-in.

After her husband was sent to federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., for 21 months, LaVerne DuPont was named executive director of the religious organization.

The couple collected more than $725,000 from Medicaid through Joplin River of Life. They received modest salaries from the organization but earned $180,000 in annual rent for the numerous group homes leased by the group, according to prosecutors.

Attorneys for the DuPonts had argued in court that the Medicaid exclusion only restricted Robert DuPont, 65, from actively caring for patients. He testified that his 74-year-old wife had extensive managerial experience. Prosecutors countered that before her husband's imprisonment LaVerne DuPont's only involvement was to bake pies for residents.

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