Some of the patients could still walk, drive, work — and even continue coaching athletics.

Others were healthy enough to participate in sporting events.

Yet a large health care company with dozens of Texas locations convinced the patients they had just months to live — sometimes sending chaplains under the guise that death was near, authorities say. The chaplains talked with patients about last rites and other final arrangements, authorities say.

In other cases, when death was truly near, the health care provider endeavored to prolong life, and patients underwent surgery or other medical interventions outside the intent of hospice care, authorities say.

“The way you make money is by keeping them alive as long as possible,” a co-conspirator in the $150 million health care fraud case testified at federal trial Southern District of Texas, according to authorities.

On Wednesday, Henry McInnis, the former CEO of Merida Group, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the latest latest development in a years-long case. In December, Rodney Mesquias, who owned the company, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

A jury convicted McInnis and Mesquias of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice and six counts of health care fraud after a one-month trial in November 2019.

“McInnis, as CEO of the company, directly oversaw a reprehensible criminal scheme that involved the submission of over $150 million in fraudulent bills, the falsification of patients’ medical records, and the payment of unlawful kickbacks,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid said in a news release. “The defendant preyed upon some of the most vulnerable members of our society, including many who suffered from diminished mental capacity and who were falsely and cruelly told by co-conspirators that they had only months to live.”

From 2009 to 2018, Merida Group, based in San Antonio, is accused of submitting more than $150 million in false and fraudulent claims for hospice care and other services, authorities say.

The company marketed a hospice care program with benefits “you don’t have to die to use,” authorities say, and “aggressively” enrolled patients with long-term incurable disease — including Alzheimer’s or dementia — as well as people with limited mental capacity.

McInnis is accused adopting a policy of illegal kickbacks, directing bribes to physicians to certify unqualified patients for hospice and home health, authorities say. Additionally, McInnis and Mesquias are accused of providing falsified medical records to a grand jury that indicated patients required hospice care in an effort to avoid indictment, authorities say.

Two other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case and await sentencing.

“Families seek to give comfort and support to their ailing loved ones when all other medical options are gone,” Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office said in the news release. “It is unconscionable and evil to prey upon the most vulnerable in our community to commit fraud against government-funded programs.”

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