Created: Wed, 29 May 2013 08:43:00 PST
Updated: Wed, 29 May 2013 08:46:43 PST
SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A clinical psychologist from National City was sentenced Wednesday to nearly two years in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining government disability benefits via a scheme in which the Social Security Administration was swindled out of at least $1.5 million.
While handing down the 21-month custody term in federal court in downtown San Diego, Chief District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz also ordered Roberto J. Velasquez, 55, to repay the funds he illicitly obtained.
Over a six-year period beginning in 2006, Velasquez falsely certified that dozens of able-bodied patients were disabled, according to court documents.
To further the fraud, Velasquez made up patient histories, fabricated test results, suggested symptoms and complaints that did not exist, and intentionally underestimated patient scores on standardized tests, prosecutors said.
In exchange for each false report, Velasquez charged his patients a $200 kickback, according to the government.
In his plea agreement, the defendant, who was arrested in the case 13 months ago, admitted that he faked disability-exception forms used by the Department of Homeland Security during naturalization processes.
Velasquez's false certifications allowed immigrants to avoid taking civics and English-language portions of the U.S. citizenship exam, prompting the Department of Homeland Security to grant exemptions to about 50 applicants who were not actually disabled.
According to court documents, Velasquez coached his patients to skirt the citizenship requirements by instructing them to use poor English during interviews and avoid mentioning that they had college educations.
He also lied, prosecutors said, about the length of time he had been treating his patients, in order to falsify a record that would satisfy reviewers at the Social Security Administration, where he previously had worked as a consultant.
In addition, Velasquez conceded that he submitted phony medical reports to the Social Security Administration, falsely certifying that certain patients were eligible for disability benefits when he knew they were not, and admitted that roughly one-third of his patient files contained false statements and bogus certifications of disability.
The fraud was uncovered through an undercover operation conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations and the Office of Inspector General in the Social Security Administration.
The prosecution was part of the U.S. Attorney's Health Care Fraud Initiative.