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Man Pleads Guilty In Health Care Fraud Case

  (DOJ) - 10/23/2014 - A Florida managing member of a shell company pleaded guilty today in federal court in Tampa, Florida, for his role in a multi-million dollar health care fraud and money laundering scheme.
    Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida, Acting Special Agent in Charge Derrick Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office and Special Agent in Charge Paul Wysopal of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office made the announcement.
    Gregory J. Sylvestri, 44, formerly of Lake Worth, Florida, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to two charges related to money laundering of health care fraud proceeds. His sentencing date will be set by the court at a later date. In his plea agreement, Sylvestri agreed to the forfeiture of a $60,000 platinum and diamond engagement ring that he purchased with health care fraud proceeds.
    According to his plea agreement, from June 2010 through April 2014, Sylvestri’s co-conspirators submitted over $12 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare through three purported health clinics, Cornerstone Health Specialists of Lakeland, Florida, Summit Health Specialists P.L. of Tampa, and Coastal Health Specialists LLC of Lakeland and Melbourne, Florida. These fraudulent claims included claims resulting from illegal kickback arrangements and claims for radiology, audiology, neurology and cardiology services that were never rendered. In fact, some of the services were purportedly provided to Medicare beneficiaries who had died before the supposed date of service. Medicare paid over $2,500,000 in reimbursement on the fraudulent claims.
    Sylvestri admitted that he and his co-conspirators used bank accounts for the clinics and shell companies, including his shell company, BONB LLC, aka BioScan, to conceal and disburse the fraud proceeds.
    Four other defendants were indicted in this case on health care fraud and money laundering charges. In addition to Sylvestri, one of the other defendants has pleaded guilty. The remaining three defendants are scheduled for a jury trial in April 2015. An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
   This case is being investigated by HHS-OIG and the FBI and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher J. Hunter of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
    Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 2,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $6 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

U.S. Small Businesses See Employment Gain

   MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - (BUSINESS WIRE) - 10/2/2014 - Intuit Inc. (Nasdaq:INTU) issued its monthly Small Business Employment and Revenue Indexes on Oct. 1. Here are topline results from each of the reports:
   Small businesses added 10,000 new jobs in September, making for more than 715,000 jobs added since March 2010.     Hourly small business employees saw a 0.1 percent decrease in monthly compensation, with average monthly pay reaching equivalent of $2,753, down $3 from August.
    Hourly employees worked an average of 108.3 hours in September, down approximately 24 minutes or 0.4 percent from August’s revised figure.
   Findings come from the monthly Intuit Small Business Employment and Revenue Indexes and are based on data from Intuit Online Payroll and QuickBooks Online Payroll, covering the period from Aug. 24 – Sept 23.
   Revenues per small business grew by 0.3 percent in August, roughly 3.1 percent when annualized. Real estate revenues have grown steadily over the past five months, reflecting an increase in home sales. This index is based on data from QuickBooks Online, covering the period from Aug. 1 – 31.
    “Small business coped with additional demand in August by having its existing work force work more. In September, small businesses hired additional people and paid them more, but asked them to work less. In sum, this makes for two months of mild gains in the small business labor market,” said Susan Woodward, the economist who works with Intuit to create the Small Business Employment and Revenue Indexes. “Small business added 10,000 jobs this month after a flat previous month. We are continuing to see signs of a warming labor market. “Despite last month’s flat employment for small business, there are other signs of further employment recovery. Hours worked were up sharply in August, but down in September; compensation was up in August due to more hours being worked, while the hourly wage remained flat. That gain was only partially lost this month, and the percent of workers working full-time was sharply up last month and reversed this month. In both months the hiring rate was up.”   Geographically, all states tracked individually by the Intuit saw hours worked decline, with the exception of Nebraska. The northern prairie states, around the Great Lakes, and those in New England saw employment declines, with Michigan and Idaho seeing the biggest declines. Utah had the biggest gain.
   The real estate rental and leasing industry saw the biggest rise in revenue among the industries tracked, posting a 0.7 percent increase. The accommodation industry posted the only decrease in revenue per business, with a decline of 0.02 percent for the month.
    “The two industries that had the biggest expansion in revenues per business recently are the two that experienced the biggest hit during the recession: real estate services and construction,” Woodward said. “Real estate services revenues rose 0.7 percent in August; this is an annual rate of 8.2 percent. These figures are seasonally adjusted, so this is not just late-summer home buying.”

Study Explores the Brain's Capacity to Learn

   (NIH) - 8/29/2014 - Learning is easier when it only requires nerve cells to rearrange existing patterns of activity than when the nerve cells have to generate new patterns, a study of monkeys has found. The scientists explored the brain’s capacity to learn through recordings of electrical activity of brain cell networks. The study was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.
   “We looked into the brain and may have seen why it’s so hard to think outside the box,” said Aaron Batista, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a senior author of the study published in Nature, with Byron Yu, Ph.D., assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.
   The human brain contains nearly 86 billion neurons, which communicate through intricate networks of connections. Understanding how they work together during learning can be challenging. Batista and his colleagues combined two innovative technologies, brain-computer interfaces and machine learning, to study patterns of activity among neurons in monkey brains as the animals learned to use their thoughts to move a computer cursor.
   “This is a fundamental advance in understanding the neurobiological patterns that underlie the learning process,” said Theresa Cruz, Ph.D., a program official at the National Center for Medical Rehabilitations Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “The findings may eventually lead to new treatments for stroke as well as other neurological disorders.”
   Brain-computer interfaces seek to turn thoughts into action. With small surgically implanted electrodes, researchers can simultaneously monitor the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons. A computer converts the signals into commands to move an external device, such as a robotic arm or a computer cursor. Brain-computer interfaces are being developed to help paralyzed patients as well as to study the function of healthy brains.
   “This evolving technology is a powerful tool for brain research,” said Daofen Chen, Ph.D., a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of NIH. “It helps scientists study the dynamics of brain circuits that may explain the neural basis of learning.”
   In this study, the research team used brain-computer interfaces in two animals to examine learning in the motor cortex, a part of the brain that controls movement. The firing patterns of the neurons they recorded were used to control a computer cursor. As the animals learned to move the cursor to a designated spot on the monitor, the computer used machine learning to map brain cell activity to cursor movement. Machine learning is a method of programming a computer to learn and constantly adjust its commands based on previous data or experience. In this case, it created a feedback loop between the animal and the computer, which improved the animal’s ability to use its thoughts to move the cursor.
   “Just as Netflix uses machine learning to predict the movies we’d like to watch, we used it to characterize the activity patterns that the brain produced during learning,” Yu said.
   At first, the scientists noticed that the ensemble of neurons recorded in each animal had a small set of natural, or favored, firing patterns that were used to move the cursor, which they called the “intrinsic manifold.” After determining the intrinsic manifold, the team reprogrammed the map between neural activity and cursor movement. For instance, if a firing pattern originally caused the cursor to move to the top of the screen, then the interface would move the cursor to the bottom. The team then observed whether the animals could learn to generate the appropriate neural activity patterns to compensate for the changes.
   “It’s as if we turned a computer mouse upside down in a person’s hand and asked him to click on an icon, except the mouse is entirely within the subject’s brain,” said Patrick Sadtler, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, who is the lead author of the study.
   The scientists discovered that the monkeys easily relearned how to move the cursor if they could use patterns within the intrinsic manifold in new ways. In contrast, learning was more difficult when the interface required patterns of neural activity that were outside of the intrinsic manifold.
   “It appears that the brain sets constraints on the speed with which we learn new things. Characterizing those constraints might enable us to predict which skills will be quicker to learn, and which might take longer,” Batista said. He and his colleagues speculated that, for humans, thinking outside the box requires more difficult changes in neural activity.
   This work was supported by grants from the NICHD (HD071686), NINDS (NS065065, NS076405), National Science Foundation (DGE-0549352), and the Burroughs Welcome Fund. 
   For more information on brain research, visit: http://www.ninds.nih.gov
   Source: National Institutes of Health 


Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014