Man seeks release from detention in Medicare fraud case

Former Merida Healthcare Group owner Rodney Mesquias filed a petition seeking release from the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility in Raymondville, where he is incarcerated pending sentencing on money laundering and health care fraud convictions.

Mesquias is asking for release to home detention with an electronic ankle monitor.

On Nov. 6, 2019, a federal jury found Mesquias, alongside former Merida administrators Francisco Pena and Henry McInnis, guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

A federal indictment accused Merida of billing Medicare more than $153 million for unqualified hospice beneficiaries, resulting in nearly $120 million in profits, beginning in 2009.

Court records accused Mesquias and McInnis of using profits from a scheme to fund a lavish lifestyle including the purchase of multiple luxury vehicles, San Antonio Spurs tickets, expensive jewelry, designer clothing, exclusive real estate, and exotic vacations.

Mesquias and McInnis were found guilty of six counts of health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Pena, also the former mayor of Rio Bravo, was convicted on one count of health care fraud, obstruction of health care investigations, and one count of false statements.

Both Mesquias and Pena were convicted on one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks.

All three former Merida employees are connected to a pending federal lawsuit filed in 2018. A complaint filed in that proceeding alleged that BRM Home Health, PLLC — the parent company of Merida, located in Waco — suddenly closed, terminating nine employees in violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires 60-day notice.

Allegations listed in the Mesquias’ habeas petition included that detainees must purchase sanitation supplies, and that many of them do not have the money, echoing concerns raised by attorneys representing clients at detention centers across the Rio Grande Valley. Inmates share common spaces such as toilets, showers, meal trays, and the telephone.

According to the document, Mesquias is incarcerated in a two-man cell in the “intake” area of the facility, which processes new detainee arrivals and transfers to other facilities, and that limited visitations under coronavirus restrictions make it difficult to prepare for proceedings.

The document alleged that there is no adequate testing at the facility and that officials have not disclosed or published in the public domain the number of positive cases among detainees and staff at the facility.

“Petitioner has no eye protection and has been provided a single ‘homemade’ cloth face mask,” the petition stated.

Mesquias is awaiting a sentencing hearing scheduled for Dec. 16, according to the filing. The document cites a number of COVID-19 outbreaks inside regional detention centers, including at least three ICE-contracted detention facilities in South Texas in which over 100 positive cases have been documented among detainees.

The Willacy County Regional Detention Facility is operated by Management and Training Corporation for the United States Marshal Service and has a capacity of 552 inmates, the petition stated. As it is a private facility, neither the Bureau of Prisons nor Immigration nor Customs Enforcement publish COVID-19 statistics among detainees and employees incarcerated inside.

Mesquias’ habeas petition cited statistics from BOP indicating 2,374 federal inmates and 515 staff who have tested positive for COVID-19. “These positive cases and deaths have occurred despite the published information of policies, procedures, and other measures to stave off the spread of the virus,” the document stated.

“Importantly, these figures DO NOT include private facilities such as the Willacy DF operated by MTC where Petitioner is located.”

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com