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Former Powell treatment center employees charged with multi-million dollar fraud

POWELL — Federal prosecutors have charged three Powell men with health care fraud and other felony crimes, alleging they submitted millions of dollars worth of fraudulent bills to Medicaid several years ago.

Under an indictment unsealed late Wednesday afternoon, former Northwest Wyoming Treatment Center employees Matthew “Ty” Barrus, Greg Bennett and Devin Dutson face a combined total of 15 charges; each charge carries the possibility of prison time.

All three men made their first appearances in U.S. District Court in Casper this week and all have been released on unsecured bonds pending further proceedings.

Bennett entered not guilty pleas to the six charges against him on Wednesday; he appeared in court without being taken into custody. Dutson and Barrus, meanwhile, were arrested in Powell on Monday. They made their initial appearances that same day and then were released on bond. Dutson and Barrus are set to enter pleas on Thursday to the four and five charges they respectively face.

Defense attorneys for the three men either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.

The allegations relate to the way that Northwest Wyoming Treatment Center billed Medicaid for the substance abuse treatment that the nonprofit organization provided to more than 80 adolescents between April 2009 and August 2016. At the time, Barrus served as the center’s executive director, Bennett was its clinical director and Dutson worked as a counselor.

Federal prosecutors contend that, in their work at the center, the three men submitted several different types of false and fraudulent bills. For instance, the indictment alleges that Barrus, Bennett and Dutson claimed that having youth engage in activities like listening to music, playing video games and weightlifting qualified as therapeutically necessary substance abuse treatment. Further, the indictment alleges that Barrus and Bennett told employees to track everything they did with clients between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. each day and to bill it to Medicaid as substance abuse treatment, even when no licensed therapist was working. Additionally, prosecutors say the three men inaccurately reported some group activities as mental health treatment and “up-coded” them as higher-paying individual therapy treatment.

Summarizing the government’s case in a separate court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Heimann contended that, “The alleged fraud resulted in the theft of approximately $8.6 million from Wyoming Medicaid over a 6 1/2 year period.”

The case is similar to and appears to stem from the one that the U.S. Attorney’s Office brought against former Powell psychologist Gib Condie, who’s currently serving a three-year federal prison sentence for health care fraud. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that Condie — who founded Northwest Wyoming Treatment Center — ran a separate billing scheme through his private business that defrauded Medicaid out of more than $2.28 million between 2012 and 2016.

Condie has said he believed his billing practices were in-line with the rules and that he had provided good services that relieved symptoms.

Prosecutors wound up seizing more than $1 million worth of property from Condie in that case. Then, in a separate action in March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office moved to seize hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets from Northwest Wyoming Treatment Center as well.

Court records say center leaders agreed to forfeit the assets, conceding that prosecutors “could prove that NWTC submitted false and fraudulent substance-abuse treatment bills to Wyoming Medicaid, and that each of the defendant-properties constituted fraud proceeds or property derived from fraud proceeds.”

An attorney for one of Northwest Wyoming Treatment Center’s former employees said in April that the forfeiture case “[arose] out of the leadership and advice that [Gib] Condie gave to Northwest Treatment Center.”

Barrus had taken over the leadership of the center from Condie.

In addition to allegations of health care fraud and health care fraud conspiracy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged Barrus, Bennett and Dutson with crimes in connection with the money they received while working at Northwest Wyoming Treatment Center; each defendant faces counts of “engaging in a monetary transaction involving criminally derived property” for depositing what were apparently their salaries, bonus or retirement benefits from the center in their bank or retirement accounts.

As part of the case, the government is seeking to have tens of thousands of dollars from Barrus, Bennett and Dutson’s accounts forfeited to the government.

In a filing, Heimann called the case both unusual and complex, saying prosecutors have gathered up more than 110,000 documents, 30 interview reports and 19 recorded interviews.

The years-long investigation culminated with a Wyoming grand jury indicting Barrus, Bennett and Dutson on Thursday, Sept. 26.