March 18, 2016 at 9:00 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay couple gets 15 months for health care fraud
hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade, health care fraud

A statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office says Russell Sveda and Richard Victor Schachter signed statements admitting they submitted a series of false claims for reimbursement of medical services they claimed Sveda received while the two were living in Germany.

A federal judge in Washington on March 10 sentenced a gay retired State Department official and his husband to 15 months incarceration for a scheme that prosecutors say enabled them to obtain at least $257,000 through false medical claims from a federal employee health insurance plan.

The sentencing came five months after former State Department official Russell Sveda, 70, and his husband, Richard Victor Schachter, 56, pled guilty to one count each of health care fraud in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

A statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, says the two men signed statements admitting they submitted a series of false claims for reimbursement of medical services they claimed Sveda received while the two were living in Germany between February 2007 and October 2010. Charging documents say Sveda signed over power of attorney authority to Schachter, who in turn filed false medical claims on Sveda’s behalf.

“Based on information the government has received to date, $257,000 of those claimed medical services, purportedly performed in Germany, are known to be false given the dates when travel and other records establish that Sveda was not in Germany,” the statement says.

In an October 2015 charging document, prosecutors say passport stamps and border crossing records obtained by federal investigators, including the FBI, found that at times when Sveda claimed he was receiving medical treatment in Germany he and Schachter either were traveling or staying in vacation destinations.

Among other things, the charging document says the two were traveling on the Queen Mary 2 from New York City to Southampton, England on one occasion when Sveda purportedly was receiving medical treatment in Germany. On another occasion, the charging document says, both men were staying in the upscale Canyon Ranch Spa in Lenox, Mass., at a time when Sveda filed claims for medical services totaling $50,000 allegedly performed at a treatment facility in Germany.

In addition to sentencing the men to 15 months incarceration, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan sentenced them to 36 months of supervised probation upon their release. He also required that they jointly pay $257,000 to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management as restitution.

Hogan said the 15 months sentence would be adjusted to reflect the 24 days that Sveda and Schachter spent in jail following their arrest at their home in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., on July 10, 2015.

The arrest came two days after the two were hit with a 24-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Washington. Among other things, the indictment charged the two with spending the money they improperly obtained through false medical claims for Sveda, in part, on travel in Europe and to pay for other expenditures unrelated to medical services.

In separate pre-sentencing memorandums filed in court by attorneys representing Sveda and Schachter, the attorneys urged Judge Hogan to sentence the men to the time they already served following their arrest and to a term of supervised release.

Federal Public Defender attorney Mary Manning Petras, who represented Sveda, argued that Sveda acknowledges he engaged in wrongdoing. But she said in the memo that he attributes a “downward spiral that led him to become involved in the instant offense” to a long history depression and alcoholism and a more recent affliction of prescription drug abuse.

She noted that Sveda successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program shortly before the sentencing was to take place.

She also noted that despite his bouts of depression and drinking problems, Sveda served for years as a distinguished State Department official in many important assignments overseas and in the U.S. Among other things, he was one of the first to help found the group Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, or GLIFAA, which advocates on behalf of LGBT Foreign Service employees, Petras says in her sentencing memo.

Schachter’s Public Defender attorney John Carney argued that Schachter “currently suffers from a number of mental health disorders,” including “mental illness, alcoholism, and other diagnosed illness.” Similar to Sveda, Carney states in his sentencing memo that Schachter had recently “acknowledged the severity of his alcohol and substance abuse problem and committed to a substance abuse and alcohol program.”

The attorneys for the two men also state in their respective court memos that their clients each struggled with accepting and being accepted as gay men during their early years.

People who knew the couple have said they were active in D.C.’s gay social scene in the 1990s and that Sveda was the host of sought after parties in his Adams Morgan townhouse during times when he was stationed in Washington.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Don’t care about the cause they supposedly supported. They committed fraud, cheated us. Too bad we can’t curtail his pension,

  • This fraud drains the system of the funds it needs to be solvent and help people who really need these benefits. I’m glad they were caught. They should be punished!

    Maybe they should have been charged interest and penalties for every month of fraud they committed on top of paying back all the money they stole as an additional deterrent to others!

  • Being in the healthcare profession I take great offense to what they knowingly did. Spa trips versus actual need of treatment they claim they had in Germany and not even in Germany. Oh poor me at an amount of $257,000.00. You stole from the healthcare system. 15 months isn’t enough. No wonder our insurance premiums are so high and no wonder our senior citizens who need help can’t get it and no wonder those who are truly in need are ignored You should have used your insurance legitally for what you are claiming in court doucments the reason why you claim you did it drug and alcoholism and depression and adding insult to the Lbg community you were depressed because of early year decisions SHAME ON YOU. How depressed where you with all your partying …sounds like you blame your gay lifestyle for a reason to steal so you could have an extravagant life style that regardless of sexuality choice everyone else works hard to achieve. You are a poor excuse for everyone who has fought for equality …DISGUSTING

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