Woman Sentenced to 3 Years in Federal Prison for Health Care Fraud Schemes

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FILE PHOTO: American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington

Vanessa Roberts Avery, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that NICOLE STEINER, formerly known as Nicole Balkas, 33, formerly of Stratford, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer in New Haven to 36 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for health care fraud offenses.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Steiner owned and operated Helping Hands Academy, LLC, in Bridgeport, which provided applied behavior analysis services to children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and was 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 more than $500,000 as a result of Steiner’s admitted conduct.

On April 28, 2021, Steiner pleaded guilty to one count of health care fraud related to this scheme.

After her guilty plea, and while she was released on bond awaiting sentencing, 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, and, on July 29, she pleaded guilty to a second count of health care fraud.

While released on bond and living in New Jersey awaiting sentencing in both cases, Steiner submitted false Medicaid applications indicating that she lived in Bridgeport in order to get Medicaid coverage for her and her children.

Steiner was remanded to custody at the conclusion of the sentencing proceeding.

Judge Meyer ordered Steiner to pay $505,955.56 in total restitution.

This investigation was 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 was 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.