Former West Chester nurse practitioner pleads guilty to health care fraud

A woman formerly of West Chester Twp. pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and the VA home health care program out of more than $8.5 million, according to a plea deal.

Sharon Romaine Ward, 52, admitted when she started Halo Home Healthcare in 2015, she concealed the ownership of the company due to a prior felony conviction. She was convicted in 2013 for passing forged and fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone as a nurse practitioner in Warren County.

That conviction made her ineligible to participate in federal health care programs for 10 years.

Halo Home Healthcare routinely overbilled federal health care programs, charging them for services it did not perform, according to court documents. The U.S. Attorney’s Office cited one example that Halo continued to bill Medicaid for home health services while the patient was hospitalized. Halo also hired, between 2017 and 2020, more than 50 employees with significant criminal histories, which should have excluded them from providing home health services. One of those hires was a person charged with a quadruple murder while supposedly working for Halo.

More than 92,700 claims were submitted by Ward to Medicaid seeking nearly $8.56 million, receiving just under $8.4 million between 2016 and 2021. Court documents indicated she also failed to provide accurate information to her business tax return preparer, causing false tax returns to be prepared and filed.

Ward pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of health care fraud and one count of making a false income tax return. Health care fraud is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Filing a false income tax return is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Terms of the plea agreement include a recommendation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that the prison term does not exceed five years for the health care fraud charge. The agreement also calls for Ward to pay restitution to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Ohio Department of Medicaid, which specific amounts would be determined at sentencing.

Ward will also prepare and file corrected business tax returns with the IRS and pay restitution, plus any interest and penalties. The IRS had determined its tax loss was more than $81,600.

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