From Milwaukee to Kiryas Joel: Following Medicaid millions made on urine tests
KIRYAS JOEL, N.Y. — Abe Freund's home on Acres Road in Kiryas Joel, New York, doesn't seem much different, at first glance, from a number of other houses on the street. It has tan siding, like many of the other residences, and a children's play set out front.
Then you notice the nice extension to the side of the house, with the good-looking windows and high trees at the property line. It's a spacious home, but it's dwarfed by the mansion where Abe's son, Isaac, lives on Schunnemunk Road in Kiryas Joel.
Kiryas Joel is considered one of the poorest communities in the nation, with one-income households and large numbers of children, per family.
The community was created in 1977 by the former grand rebbe of the Satmar Hasidic Orthodox Jewish sect, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. More than 40 percent of the families rely on the federal government for food stamps.
But the U.S. government says Abe Freund is rich, in part, because of an alleged Medicaid scheme he carried out 885 miles away in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Court papers filed by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Wisconsin said Abe Freund made more than $7 million dollars in Medicaid reimbursements, between 2011 and 2014, on the backs of substance abusers who came to his Acacia Mental Health clinic in Milwaukee for counseling.
Most of that money was made on unnecessary urine tests, the government said, with Freund accused of raking in $230 per screening instead of the customary $20. The reimbursements went as high $474.66 per test, after Freund's lab affiliate invested in a new machine.
Prosecutors said Freund's clinic also charged Medicaid hundreds of thousands of dollars for psychiatric services performed by doctors based in Israel, via teleconferencing.
Freund denied the charges in papers filed in April 2017.
Yet he closed the clinic in June 2017.
And that's where WITI — PIX11's sister station in Milwaukee — came in.
One of Freund's former employees at the clinic contacted investigative reporter, Bryan Polcyn, and said she was concerned a new clinic opened at the site — Achievement Associates — was being run by many of the same people that worked under Freund.
"They're doing exactly the same thing," the woman said, asking that her identity be masked. "They have the same clients."
Polcyn's team photographed a meeting, shortly after the clinic closed, between Abe Freund and Dr. Neena Florsheim, who had been administrator at some Achievement Associates clinics. She later told Polcyn she had sold her interest in the site on Fond du Lac Avenue to Netanel Friedman. He's listed as the new owner of the new clinic. Friedman also lives up the street from Abe Freund — on Acres Road — in Kiryas Joel, New York.
The new clinic also houses a urine testing lab called Care Tox, Inc., which is owned by Isaac Freund of Kiryas Joel, New York, Abe's son.
PIX11 paid three visits to Kiryas Joel, and we didn't see Abe Freund's Jeep Cherokee parked in his driveway, even before Friday Sabbath. When we knocked on the door, which was open, an angry man came running through the large dining room, yelling about our camera, "What are you doing? Shut it off!"
We also saw the palatial home, built in 2014, where Abe's son, Isaac, lives on Schunnemunk Road.
The massive property is 11,500 square feet and the real estate site, Zillow, said it has 11 bedrooms and nine bathrooms. There's a long, impressive walkway, with a beautiful, French-style door leading to a second floor balcony. The mansion has many large windows on all sides of it.
PIX11 was told we could find Isaac Freund's family by ringing a rear buzzer. A woman who answered told us "No cameras," and closed the door when we said we wanted to ask Isaac Freund about the Care Tox lab in Milwaukee.
An Orthodox man who told us he works in an office at Isaac's home remarked, "Do you think I care about other people's money? I care about myself and my money."
There are precedents for federal prosecutors trying to retrieve Medicaid money. One of the nation's largest labs — Millenium in San Diego, California — agreed to pay the government $256 million under the False Claims Act, to settle a government lawsuit that accused Millenium of drug screening fraud, among other abuses.
The former Acacia Mental Health clinic employee in Milwaukee said many of the clients seeking services there were taking Suboxone to combat a heroin addiction.
Federal prosecutors said Freund's clinic was getting 99 percent of the Medicaid reimbursements in Wisconsin for substance abuse and mental health services.
"He saw an opportunity here in Milwaukee, and he cornered it," the ex-employee said. "At the end of the day, these people are being taken advantage of and the taxpayers are paying for it, as well."
Neither Abe Freund nor his lawyers returned our calls seeking comment.