ALF owner gets 33-month sentence for diverting more than $1 million in resident funds

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The owner of a Florida assisted living community has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison after admitting to diverting more than $1 million in Social Security and Medicaid benefits from elderly and mentally ill residents and using some of the funds to cover personal expenses such as credit card, car and rent payments, according to the U.S. District Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida.

Ilfrenise Charlemagne, 68, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in November and recently was sentenced, the office said. She also has been ordered to make restitution.

Charlemagne had been charged with a total of 41 counts, but all but one were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

According to court documents obtained by McKnight's Senior Living, she owned and operated the 32-bed Hilcrest Residential ALF, an assisted living facility in St. Petersburg, FL, whose residents were elderly or mentally ill. Most the funds used to operate Hilcrest came from Medicaid and Social Security benefits of the residents.

Hilcrest's Medicaid provider license became effective in July 2008, and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration issued a certificate of operation in November 2009.

In May 2011, the Florida AHCA closed Hilcrest after a surprise inspective made in response to a complaint, saying:

  • that the facility was heavily infested with bedbugs and roaches that resulted in bites and scabs on residents;
  • that residents were unkempt, with evidence of confusion and disassociation;
  • that residents were hungry and underfed;
  • that Charlemagne failed to provide a safe and sanitary living environment for residents; and
  • that residents were at risk of serious injury and major health problems.

A family member of one resident told an inspector that Charlemagne had required the family to designate her as the representative payee for the resident's Social Security benefits.

The facility was shut down immediately, and residents were moved to a nearby facility.

In October 2011, Charlemagne entered into a settlement agreement with AHCA, promising not to own or operate an assisted living facility for five years, according to court documents. That same month, however, she reportedly changed Hilcrest's name to Pleasant Alternative and began the process of reopening.

Charlemagne reportedly applied to AHCA for a license to operate an assisted living facility using the identity of a straw owner, received the license in July 2012 and re-opened the facility to Medicaid and Social Security beneficiaries, primarily mentally ill adults. Pleasant Alternative was named an enrolled Medicaid provider in August 2012.

By April 2013, however, AHCA again shut down the facility, saying:

  • there was no heat;
  • the facility was understaffed;
  • there was no evidence of staff training on topics such as residents' rights, CPR, first aid, emergency procedures, infection control, medication administration or dietary standards;
  • adequate background checks had not been performed on some employees;
  • residents weren't provided with adequate medication or food;
  • rodents, vermin and debris were found in the kitchen; and
  • the facility posed a serious and immediate danger to residents and the public.

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