Vanessa Roberts Avery, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that on July 29, 2022, NICOLE STEINER, formerly known as Nicole Balkas, 32, formerly of Stratford and now residing in Edison, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in Bridgeport federal court to a health care fraud offense that she committed while awaiting sentencing in another health care fraud case.
According to court documents and statements made in court, on April 28, 2021, Steiner pleaded guilty to one count of health care fraud related to her operation of Helping Hands Academy, LLC, in Bridgeport, which provided applied behavior analysis services to children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and was enrolled as a participating provider in the Connecticut Medicaid Program (“Medicaid”). From December 2018 to October 2020, Steiner submitted and caused to be submitted fraudulent claims to Medicaid for applied behavior analysis services that were purportedly provided to Medicaid clients. She submitted claims for dates of service when no applied behavior analysis services of any kind had been provided to the Medicaid clients identified in the claims, and she inflated the number of hours for certain claims even when applied behavior analysis had been provided to the Medicaid clients identified in the claims. Steiner also submitted false Medicaid claims in 2020 using a former employee’s name and performing provider number.
After the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS), which administers the Medicaid program in Connecticut, terminated Helping Hands Academy as a provider, Steiner made several false statements and submitted an altered document to DSS in an effort to rescind the termination and to receive payment for previously submitted claims.
Medicaid suffered a loss of $551,311.85 as a result of Steiner’s admitted conduct.
After her guilty plea, Steiner was released on a $50,000 bond. While she was awaiting sentencing in her case, Steiner was a silent partner in another company that provided applied behavior analysis services to children diagnosed with ASD called New Beginnings Children’s Behavioral Health LLC. Steiner was responsible for billing claims to Medicaid, managing payroll, and recruiting and screening potential employees, and she and had access to and used her business partner’s email and other online accounts to operate the company. Steiner and the company engaged in health care fraud by billing Medicaid for thousands of dollars in services not rendered and, in particular, billing for services not rendered by Steiner.
Steiner was arrested on May 2, 2022.
Steiner is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer on October 21, 2022. She faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years for the new case, part of which must be imposed consecutively to the sentence she receives in her initial health care fraud case.
Pending sentencing Steiner is released on a $250,000 bond in home detention and under electronic monitoring.
This investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
U.S. Attorney Avery acknowledged the valuable cooperation of the Connecticut Department of Social Services in the investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David T. Huang.
People who suspect health care fraud are encouraged to report it by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS.