(WASHINGTONPOST) — LOS ANGELES — In the little office where they ran the scam, a cellphone would ring on Sonia Bonilla’s desk. That was the sound of good news: Somebody had found them a patient.

When Bonilla answered the phone, one of the scam’s professional “patient recruiters” would read off the personal data of a senior citizen. Name. DOB. Medicare ID number. Bonilla would hang up and call Medicare, the enormous federal health-insurance program for those over 65.

She asked a single question: Had the government ever bought this patient a power wheelchair?

No? Then the scam was off and running.

“If they did not have one, they would be taken to the doctor, so the doctor could prescribe a chair for them,” Bonilla recalled. On a log sheet, Bonilla would make a note that the recruiter was owed an $800 finder’s fee. “They were paid for each chair.”

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