Military panel convicts soldier of medical fraud
HANAU, Germany — At his court-martial Friday, Sgt. Martin K. Hinneluther didn’t deny that the medical claims made in his name — more than $132,000 worth — were fraudulent.
He said it was an elder cousin who filed Tricare claims for various ills treated at Ghanaian clinics, not him. He was just a kindhearted dupe.
The military panel hearing his case didn’t agree.
After less than 90 minutes of deliberation at the military courthouse in Hanau, a panel of four officers and four enlisted found Hinneluther guilty of the three charges covering a dozen specifications of larceny and fraud.
“This case is simple,” Capt. Jacqueline Tubbs, one of two prosecutors, said in her closing argument. “It’s about greed and it’s about exploitation of the system.”
The system she referred to is one set up to make it easy for military members and their families to get reimbursed for medical care received in developing countries, such as Ghana, where Tricare’s rules for making medical claims are less stringent than in the developed world.
“The accused knew that system,” Tubbs said.
Hinneluther emigrated to the United States in October 2001 and said he left his cousin, whom he considered an elder, to look after two young relatives. The children weren’t his, and never lived with him, but were part of his extended family.
Hinneluther joined the Army soon after arriving, and enrolled the children in Tricare, the military’s health care plan, he said.
Many of the false medical claims were for health care the children supposedly received, such as a kidney transplant and treatment for pleurisy. Hinneluther said his cousin made the claims on his behalf, and, by Ghanaian custom, he never questioned their validity.
When asked by the military to investigate, Simon Hankinson, a U.S. State Department employee who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, discovered that some of the clinics purported to have provided the medical services didn’t exist. Others could not have performed the claimed medical procedures, he said.
A defense witness, who worked at a clinic where some treatments — including a $7,403 kidney transplant — supposedly occurred, testified that the clinic didn’t have the ability to perform surgeries. Nor did it charge in U.S. dollars, as various fake bills indicated.
Hinneluther was paid roughly $76,500 for six false claims. Five other claims totaling about $55,600 went unpaid, though he pestered Tricare to get the money, Maj. Daniel Grieser, one of the soldier’s defense attorneys, said. This showed Hinneluther believed the claims were valid, Grieser said.
Hinneluther said he sent all the Tricare money to his cousin in Ghana. It was the cousin, the defense stated, who took the money to live a life of luxury.
The cousin died in 2005, about the time the investigation started, Hinneluther and another defense witness said. However, since his first medical claim in 2003, Hinneluther bought a $325,000 town house and a $44,000 sport utility vehicle.
In her closing argument, Tubbs summed up earlier testimony with a slide show depicting the pattern of Hinneluther’s medical claims, which matched almost exactly with claims made by a fellow Ghanaian who emigrated to the U.S. and joined the Army at nearly the same time.
The soldiers, Tubbs said, conspired to defraud Tricare.
Hinneluther was sentenced to three years confinement, fined $10,000, reduced to E-1, and given a bad-conduct discharge. He also has to forfeit all pay and allowances.
A court-martial for alleged co-conspirator Sgt. Seth Y. Adomako-Adjei on similar charges is scheduled for mid-January.