McALLEN A former home healthcare nurse has been sentenced to federal prison without parole for making false statements relating to health care matters, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.

Veronica De Leon, of Weslaco, was sentenced late Monday afternoon by Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa to 15 months in federal prison, without parole, and ordered to pay a total of $26,844.07 in restitution to her victim, the Medicare program. In addition, Chief Judge Hinojosa ordered that De Leon serve a three-year-term of supervised release after her release from prison.

De Leon, 34, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements relating to health care matters on Oct. 5, 2010, admitting that she had submitted falsified patient encounter forms-for patient visits that were scheduled but did not occur-to her employer, a Weslaco-based home healthcare agency.

As a licensed vocational nurse, De Leon was responsible for assessing and treating homebound Medicare patients suffering from a variety of illnesses. For each patient visit, De Leon was required to fill out and submit to her employer a patient encounter form detailing the patient's current health status and the services she purportedly provided to the patient. This form, in turn, was used by De Leon's employer to track the patient's progress and to bill Medicare for the alleged visits. By submitting the falsified encounter forms to her unsuspecting employer, De Leon caused approximately $53,100 in claims to be submitted to Medicare that were, but should not have been, paid by Medicare.

At De Leon's sentencing hearing, the United States presented evidence, including witness testimony, proving that De Leon had falsified and submitted to her employer more than 375 encounter forms in which De Leon falsely claimed to have visited and treated numerous Medicare patients, many of whom were elderly. The evidence at the hearing also showed that, to conceal the fraud from her employer, De Leon undertook a number of measures including, among others, exploiting the sympathies of her patients by pleading with them not to report her to her employer for missing visits that were scheduled to occur.

In some cases, De Leon told patients that she had been suffering from cancer, which was not true. In another case, De Leon asked a patient to lie to her employer if called about whether De Leon was attending the scheduled visits because, if the patient told the truth, De Leon would be fired from her job. The evidence at the sentencing hearing also showed that De Leon concealed the fraud by filling out the encounter forms with normal patient assessments to avoid follow-up patient visits by supervising nurses. In light of this evidence, the court found that certain sentencing enhancements applied, including that De Leon had abused a position of trust and used a special skill-her training as a nurse-in committing the offense. The court also found that the offense involved vulnerable victims-namely, the elderly Medicare patients she failed to visit.

De Leon has been permitted to remain on bond until Dec. 19, 2011, when she must surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service to begin serving her prison sentence.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Greg Saikin prosecuted the case.