On Thursday, June 12, 2014, Garry A. Hankerson, Jr. pleaded guilty to Racketeering (O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4(c)), Medicaid Fraud (O.C.G.A. § 49-4-146.1(b)(1)), and Conspiracy to Defraud the State (O.C.G.A. § 16-10-21(a)) in Cobb County Superior Court. Hankerson and his co-defendants obtained over $622,000 through the fraudulent billing of Georgia Medicaid and the Amerigroup Corporation.

Hankerson is the co-owner of First Step Counseling Services, Inc. of Marietta, which provided Intensive Family Intervention counseling services as well as Family and Individual counseling services to troubled children in need of intensive therapy for behavioral issues. Children who qualify for these services under Medicaid typically do so because they are in danger of being removed from their homes. Between July 2005 and June 2010, Hankerson and his accomplices would use their patients' Medicaid numbers to bill far in excess of the services provided, sometimes billing when children were no longer in the State of Georgia. Some patients reported being seen only twice, while First Step billed for hundreds of counseling sessions. In sum, over 3,000 false claims were identified over a five year period.

“Mr. Hankerson shamelessly used Medicaid funds to finance his extravagant lifestyle,” said Attorney General Sam Olens. “Meanwhile, the very children he was supposed to be helping were deprived of the services they needed. My office will continue to aggressively prosecute those who steal from Georgia Medicaid.”

Mr. Hankerson enlisted his wife, his childhood family friend, and his cousin, none of whom had any significant criminal history, to assist with fraudulent billing and the creation of false patient notes to hide their fraudulent scheme. He and his accomplices forged multiple clinicians’ and employees’ signatures on hundreds of false documents in an attempt to conceal their excessive billing upon being audited by Medicaid administrators, ultimately only adding to their charges.

Mr. Hankerson used the business’ bank account into which Medicaid money was deposited to purchase a large home for his family in Marietta, multiple luxury automobiles, including a Lexus and BMW, and to fund vacations to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Las Vegas. Meanwhile, several of his employees reported their paychecks would repeatedly bounce. Many of the parents of the children in whose names the $622,000 of services were being fraudulently billed also reported that the children themselves, who received far less counseling than Medicaid authorized for them, ultimately ended up in group homes, foster homes, or the juvenile justice system.

Judge James G. Bodiford sentenced Hankerson through a negotiated plea to seven years in prison, 13 years probation, and ordered restitution in the amount of $622,126.43 to the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Amerigroup Corporation.

The three remaining co-defendants will be sentenced on June 23, 2014.

Assistant Attorney General Lyndie Freeman prosecuted the case on behalf of the State of Georgia. The investigation was conducted by Investigative Auditor Amy Snow of the Georgia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), a Division of the Office of the Attorney General. Georgia MFCU Analyst Tish Murray, Nurse Investigator Beth Ann Teague, Investigator Melody Toddy, and Investigator Shakethia Morgan assisted with the investigation, as did the Georgia Department of Community Health. The case originated with a referral produced by Senior Investigator David Ross of the Amerigroup Corporation.