Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced Monday the executive director of a New Jersey nonprofit was sentenced to 70 months in prison for defrauding Medicaid of $1.5 million.
Fifty-three-year-old Cesar Tavera of Cherry Hill previously pleaded guilty to embezzling from a health care benefit program and health care fraud.
Tavera was the executive director of Nueva Vida Behavioral Health Center of New Jersey, a nonprofit that provides mental health services to Camden residents. New Jersey Medicaid requires individuals providing mental health services to recipients to have a master’s degree in mental health or licensed. Tavera knowingly had unqualified, unlicensed individuals provide mental health therapy to Medicaid recipients, but billed Medicaid as if they were licensed therapists. He also treated the recipients, even though he was unqualified, according to court documents.
Tavera caused Nueva Vida to submit claims and obtain money for several other fraudulent practices. He also billed Medicaid billed for therapy that was never provided, individual sessional and short sessions that lasted longer. To avoid detection, Tavera would create bogus records to pass Medicaid audits.
Tavera embezzled money from Nueva Vida o pay for meals, travel expenses, dental care and “expenses of his daughter’s music career.” He paid employees who never showed up to work payroll checks and cash from Nueva Vida’s bank account. He withdrew cash on multiple occasions at the Sugar House Casino. It was determined that he embezzled over $1.5 million from Nueva Vida.
In addition to the 30-month prison sentence, Tavera was ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution.