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Medicare Fraud by Nigerian Scammer Lands Friend in Jail

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 12, 2015 7:58 PM

After Blessing Iwuala received his master's degree in business administration in Nigeria, he put his learning to use opening a medical supply company. When Iwuala teamed up with John Nasky, who ran a medical billing business, the two used Iwuala's company to circumvent Nasky's pervious ban from Medicare payments. Soon, Medicare payments for durable medical equipment left Iwuala "awash in a flood of easy money."

That arrangement netted Iwuala quick cash with little work, but it also landed him in jail when Nasky's fraudulent billing was revealed. Iwuala was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, despite his claims that he was an innocent dupe. On appeal, the First Circuit upheld his conviction in full.

A Medicare Scheme With a 419

Nasky's fraud, which took down both him and Iwuala, brought in just under half a million dollars. That money was split, 65 percent to Nasky, 35 to Iwuala. Under the scheme, Nasky would fill prescriptions and inventory and bill Medicare for the costs, on a supply of blank company forms provided by Iwuala. Almost all those billings were based on illegally obtained Medicare beneficiary information, forged prescriptions or fraudulent medical equipment requests.

On appeal, Iwuala objected to the trial courts inclusion of testimony that Nasky was a "419." A "419" is Nigerian slang for a scammer. The name grew out of the infamous Nigerian Prince email scams -- emaisl which claim wealthy foreigner needs help moving millions of dollars out of Nigeria and will split some of it with you for helping. Just send along your banking information. The con, which has defrauded people of billions of dollars, is known as a 419, after the section of the Nigerian criminal code which prohibits it.

Reputation Evidence Was Not Prejudicial

At trial, several people testified that Nasky was widely known as a 419 and not to be trusted. Iwuala claims that evidence was unfairly prejudicial appearance, reputation and prior bad act evidence. The First Circuit disagreed. The jury was not informed of the 419 background -- no scam emails were brought up, for example -- outside of it meaning that Nasky was "flashy."

Further, Nasky's reputation as a con was relevant, going directly to Iwuala's knowledge and intent. It goes to show that Iwuala was not a patsy but was fully aware of the scheme he was involving himself in. The evidence presented was relevant, the First ruled, and it was sufficient to sustain Iwuala's conviction.

Speaking of Flashy

The opinion by Judge Selya is engagingly written, though it contains a bit of purple prose. It's great for anyone needing to brush up on their SAT vocab. For example, Iwuala isn't sentenced to prison, he's given a "term of immurement." Our favorite Word of the Day from the opinion? Asseverational, adjective, from the Latin asseverare, meaning "relating to a solemn or emphatic declaration," as in "after careful consideration of his asseverational array, we affirm."

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