US orders manhunt for Pinay balikbayan over $17M healthcare fraud

By Florence F. Hibionada/ PNS

A 41 year-old Filipina nurse has now been officially named one of the first-ever top 10 “Most Wanted Health Care Fugitives” by the United States (US) Government.

Dubbed by American authorities as a “ringleader” in one of biggest health care frauds in California , USA , wanted is fugitive Susan Bendigo Lim of Davao City.

A mother of two teens, she stands accused of five felony counts in the US District Court, Central District of California for “health care fraud, aiding and abetting and causing an act to be done.” To her ‘credit’ is at least $17 million in alleged scammed taxpayers’ money. Yet data obtained by Philippine News Service (PNS) disclosed the confirmation from the US Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that some $10 million were collected by the Filipina fugitive herself “from the claims she submitted for services she provided with unlicensed staff.”

Bendigo – Lim finished her Nursing course in Cebu City and made it big in the US between 2005 to 2007.

Docketed as criminal case 2:09 cr-00148-UA, USA vs. Bendigo aka Susan Lim, the indictment was made in February 2009 still. It was only Friday when the OIG decided to put a face on healthcare fraudsters that unfortunately for the Philippines , included one of its own nurses.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the OIG, TDG learned, is working on Bendigo’s arrest to follow-up the crackdown on healthcare fraudsters in American soil.

Another identified “ringleader” was one Priscilla Villabroza, also a Filipina nurse and a known associate in Los Angeles (LA), California by the wanted nurse. Villabroza has since pleaded guilty to five counts of health care fraud and faces up to 50 years in prison.

A similar fate awaits Bendigo – Lim known to American authorities to be in hiding here in the Philippines . PNS in an independent investigation learned that the 41 year-old balikbayan nurse was in Cebu City only last month. Since fleeing America in October 2008, she is believed to have set up several residences including an apartment in Cebu .

To note, health care fraud in the US is blamed for an estimated $60 billion a year loss for US taxpayers over Medicare and Medicaid scams. Medicare and Medicaid program is similar to the Philippine’s PhilHealth Insurance Program.

To date, a shortlist of 170 fugitive healthcare fraudsters in the US have been identified with the order out for a global manhunt. In the top 10 list, Bendigo- Lim ranked 8th, for having scammed millions out of the US Department of Health and Human Services budget.

Tipsters worldwide are encouraged to help via its official website, http://www.oig.hhs.gov/fugitives/.

The wanted Filipina nurse is described in the site as “Susan Bendigo, also known as Susan Lim. She’s a federal fugitive in a 42-defendant case involving shady nurses operating out of Santa Fe Springs.” She is five feet four inches tall and was sporting a short hair upon recent sighting in Cebu City .

With the latest inclusion of Bendigo – Lim in the “Most Wanted Health Care Fugitives” list, “horror stories” resurfaced anew as earlier reported by American media.

An Associated Press (AP) story wrote of how Lim’s operations allowed untrained, unlicensed and unqualified Filipino nurses to treat disabled children and those suffering from Cerebral Palsy.

CNN for its part did an extensive piece on the indictment with information on how Bendigo – Lim gave instructions for Filipino workers to lie about real status.

“According to court documents, the ring passed off unqualified workers as nurses who provided in-home medical care to about 75 disabled patients, many of them children with cerebral palsy or developmental disabilities.

“Why was their conduct wrong?” U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien asked during a downtown news conference. “Stated simply, the ring hired unlicensed individuals and passed them off as licensed vocational nurses to both Medi-Cal and parents of disabled children,” news wires on the Bendigo – Lim case went.

“Those associated with this fraud ring not only cheated taxpayers, they endangered the lives of those they had promised to protect and care for,” O’Brien added.