SAN DIEGO — A San Diego-area psychologist convicted of falsifying medical certifications he sent to the federal government on behalf of dozens of patients was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in prison, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Office of Inspector General.
Roberto J. Velasquez, 55, of National City, was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz, who also ordered Velasquez to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution to the SSA.
"Combating health care fraud is a top priority of the Department of Justice," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "Rather than exercising his professional medical judgment to help his patients, this defendant corrupted the integrity of the system in order to line his own pockets."
According to the court documents, Velasquez falsely certified that dozens of patients were disabled by making up medical histories, fabricating test results and suggesting symptoms and complaints that did not exist. He also underestimated patient scores on standardized tests and lied about the length of time he had been seeing the patients. Velasquez charged his patients $200 for each false report.
"This investigation uncovered a multi-year fraud scheme that exploited the naturalization process whereby immigrants apply for U.S. citizenship, said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. "HSI is committed to working with its counterparts at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to aggressively pursue those who seek to enrich themselves by perpetuating fraud that undermines the integrity of our legal immigration system."
In his plea agreement, Velasquez admitted he falsified two different types of disability reports. First, Velasquez falsified Form N-648, the form used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to certify a medical disability for certain applicants applying to naturalize. The false certifications allowed the applicants to avoid taking the English language and civics sections of the citizenship exam. Velasquez also instructed his patients to use poor English during their interviews with USCIS, and not to mention they had a college education.
Based on the fraudulent N-648 forms, the agency granted disability exemptions to approximately 50 immigrants who did not otherwise qualify for the disability waiver.
"The egregious nature of this crime, facilitated by a trained, qualified clinical practitioner who was entrusted to certify his patients' disabilities to the federal government for purposes of determining their eligibility for Social Security benefits, cannot and will not be tolerated by the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General," said David F. Butler, special agent in charge for the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General.
Velasquez admitted he submitted fraudulent medical reports to the SSA, falsely certifying that certain patients were eligible for disability benefits when he knew they were not. Between 2006 and April 2012, when Velasquez was arrested, the SSA paid out at least $1.5 million in unwarranted disability benefits based on his false certifications. Velasquez also admitted that approximately 33 percent of his patient files contained fabrications, false statements, and false certifications of disability.