Three Plead Guilty to $6.5 Million Healthcare Fraud

By Janice Cameron, The Chicago Times

March 3, 2023

CHICAGO – A Chicago-area physical therapist, health care professional, and a personal trainer have pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud schemes that totaled $6.5 million dollars in fraudulent claims.  

United States Attorney for the Northern District John R. Lausch, Jr. said Inessa Katsnelson, 55, of Glenview, Maya Yakubovichn 56, of Arlington Heights, and Beatta Kabbani, 55, of Glenview, each pleaded guilty to one count of healthcare fraud for scheming to defraud private insurers for payment of physical therapy and other services that were never rendered.

Katsnelson, aka “Inessa Blinov,” “Inessa Danuchevsky”, and “Inna,” is a personal trainer and singer who worked out of a gym in Northbrook, participated in a scheme to defraud private health and auto insurers through multiple entities from 2006 to October 2018.  Katsnelson allegedly provided names and insurance information for purported patients to those entities, knowing the entities would submit fraudulent claims to insurance companies for services never provided.  Katsnelson allegedly provided to some of the individuals she referred certain benefits, including free personal training sessions, massages, and the exhaustion of their annual health insurance deductibles, at no cost to them, through the fraudulent billing practices.

Yakubovich, who worked as a medical claims biller for health care facilities in Buffalo Grove, Northfield, Prospect Heights, Wheeling, Des Plaines, and Glenview, participated in the scheme with Katsnelson and others.  According to Lausch, from approximately 2006 to October 2018, Yakubovich knowingly prepared and submitted fraudulent claims, and at times created false medical records to support the claims.  Yakubovich also provided names and insurance information for purported patients to one of the entities, and then submitted fraudulent claims to insurance companies for services never provided to the purported patients.

Kabbani, who was a licensed physical therapist, president, and secretary of a medical group located in Northfield and Glenview, pleaded guilty in a separate case based on her involvement in a related scheme.  According to Lausch, between September 2011 and November 2016, Kabbani fraudulently submitted, and caused to be submitted, fraudulent claims to insurance companies.  The claims falsely represented that certain healthcare services were provided to patients, when Kabbani knew that those services were not actually provided.  The fraudulent claims identified Kabbani, a medical doctor, and another therapist as the service providers on dates when these three providers were not present at the healthcare facility.  To substantiate the fraudulent claims Kabbani created, and caused the creation of, false medical records.

It was revealed that Katsnelson, Yakubovich, and Kabbani, along with their co-schemers, received a portion of the fraudulently obtained funds.  The indictment against Katsnelson, Yakubovich, and others alleges that nine insurance companies were defrauded out of approximately $6.5 million.  Lausch said co-schemers whose charges are still pending are 60-year-old Tetyana Voronkina, aka “Tanya Vorokina”, a medical claims biller, of Mundelein, and massage therapist Viktor Danchuk, 62, of Roselle.

Katsnelson is scheduled to appear for sentencing on May 26, 2023, Yakubovich’s sentencing is scheduled for May 24, 2023.  Kabbani’s sentencing has not been scheduled at this time.

Lombard: Berlin Finds Officer Justified in Shooting

By Kathy Whitaker, The Chicago Times

March 3, 2023

WHEATON, IL – DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin announced on Thursday that a Lombard police officer was justified in the shooting of an armed suspect back in December of 2022.

According to Berlin, “. . . it was determined after an extensive investigation surrounding the shooting of Pierre Thompson by a Lombard police officer, Detective Ryan Postal, who discharged his weapon striking Pierre Thompson in the right chest, the upper left arm and in the right back, was legally justified in his actions and that no criminal charges will be filed against Detective Postal.”

Berlin determined his decision after an exhaustive review of police reports, statements from those involved, witness accounts, physical evidence, photographs, body-worn videos, in-car squad videos, 9-1-1 calls, cellular phone data, and site visits.

On December 8, 2022, around 4:00 pm, Detective Postal and his partner were among the numerous officers responding to a call of an armed robbery in progress at a business located at 54 West Roosevelt Road.  

As Detective Postal arrived on scene, he pulled his vehicle next to a car suspected of being involved in the armed robbery.  Detective Postal observed Thompson run right next to his car at which time Detective Postal yelled “hands” as an order to Thompson to show Detective Postal his hands. Thompson responded by pointing a firearm at Detective Postal and his partner while continuing to run from the scene.

Detective Postal opened his door and returned fire while yelling out “I got shot, I got shot.” Detective Postal said he felt vulnerable laying by the driver’s side door and not being able to move. Thompson, who was trying to get up and go for his gun, prompted Detective Postal to fire two more times in Thompson’s direction. 

Responding officers performed life-saving measures on Thompson, but Thompson died from multiple gunshot wounds. According to police, Detective Postal was wounded in the right leg and transferred to an area hospital.

During their crime scene  investigation, police recovered a backpack, cell phone, and wallet belonging to an employee of the business as well as stolen cash from the business next to where Thompson’s body was located. Police also recovered three Hornady 9mm fired cartridge casings, which the Illinois State Police Crime Lab determined were fired from Detective Postal’s gun and six CCI 9mm fired cartridge casings in the area where Thompson was shooting at the police officers, which the Illinois State Police Crime Lab determined were fired from Thompson’s gun.

“The above facts have been evaluated in the context of Illinois law governing the justifiable use of deadly force. In accordance with Illinois law, my staff and I have reviewed the facts and circumstances of the case with special consideration given to the perspective of the officer on the scene. It is important to remember that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the appropriate amount of force necessary to bring a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation under control.” Berlin said in a press release.

According to the DuPage Metropolitan Emergency Response and Investigation Team (MERIT), Thompson was running toward Detective Postal, armed with a gun, and that Thompson ignored Detective Postal’s command of “hands” and instead fired the weapon at Detective Postal.  Furthermore, Thompson clearly knew that the officers were police officers based on how the officers were dressed. 

“Moreover, under Illinois law Detective Postal was not required to retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest. Detective Postal was justified in using deadly force because he reasonably believed, based on the totality of the circumstances, that such force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself and his partner. Moreover, the fact that Detective Postal fired two additional times at Thompson after being shot in his leg does not change the analysis because Thompson was attempting to get up and retrieve the gun he had dropped, and therefore still posed a threat to Detective Postal and his partner’s lives. The evidence shows that but for Detective Postal shooting Thompson, it is likely Thompson would have killed Detective Postal and possibly his partner as well.” MERIT said in a press release.

ISP Firearm Enforcement Grant Sees More Than 1,000 Compliance Checks

By David Slavik, The Chicago Times

February 25, 2023

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Illinois State Police announced that their firearm enforcement grants awarded to law enforcement agencies across Illinois saw 1,115 firearm enforcement checks and placed 472 individuals into compliance with the Firearm Owner Identification Card Act (FOID) in 2022.

According to ISP, enforcement grants were awarded to 30 law enforcement agencies to conduct enforcement operations for individuals whose FOID card had been revoked or suspended as a result of being prohibited by state or federal law.  The enforcement details focused on individuals who have become the subject of a Firearm Restraining Order or Clear and Present Danger, or received a criminal conviction.

“Local law enforcement agencies know their communities best and know who poses a threat,” said ISP Director Brendan F. Kelly. “Grants to local law enforcement agencies galvanizes our ability to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who pose a significant threat to themselves or others.”

ISP started tracking firearm enforcement details in May 2019 through the end of 2022.  Between that time ISP conducted 1,455 details and placed 4,296 individuals into compliance by surrendering their FOID Cards, transferring all firearms out of their possession, and completing a Firearm Disposition Record.

The following law enforcement agencies were awarded firearm enforcement grants:

Aurora Police Department

Broadview Police Department

Champaign Police Department

Christian County Sheriff’s Office

Cicero Police Department

Cook County Sheriff

DeKalb police department

Harvey Police Department

Kane County Sheriff

Kankakee Police Department

Lincolnwood Police Department

Melrose Park Police Department

Moline Police Department

Montgomery Police Department

Morton grove Police Department

Naperville Police Department

Park Forest Police Department

Peru Police Department

Rolling Meadows Police Department

Posen Police Department

Putnam County Sheriff’s Office

Rockton Police Department

Romeoville Police Department

Schaumburg Police Department

South Beloit Police Department

Spring Valley Police Department

St. Charles Police Department

West Chicago Police Department

Woodridge Police Department

Zion Police Department

Convicted Felon Accused of Possessing a Handgun in Willowbrook

By Ann Nguyen, The Chicago Times

February 24, 2023

WHEATON – A Romeoville man has been charged with illegally possessing a loaded firearm in Willowbrook.

According to DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, Steven Buegel, 43, of the 0-100 block of Abbeywood Drive, has been charged with one felony count of armed habitual criminal based on Buegel’s criminal history, which includes convictions for unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon and a felony count of manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance.  Buegel could face between six and thirty years in the Illinois Department of Corrections if convicted.

Steven Buegel. Photo: DuPage County State’s Attorney

According to Willowbrook police, on February 21, 2023, around 8:44 pm, a Willowbrook police officer conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle allegedly driven by Buegel.  It is alleged that during the course of the traffic stop the officer found a loaded Denali .380 handgun with one round in the chamber in Buegel’s possession.

“The law is very clear, as a convicted felon, Mr. Buegel is forbidden from possessing a gun.  I commend the Willowbrook Police Department for their heads-up work not only on this case which resulted in removing an illegal weapon from the streets, but also for their continued efforts in public safety. I also thank Assistant State’s Attorneys Jaclyn McAndrew and Alexis Gamboa for their efforts on this case.” Berlin said is a statement.

Bond has been set at $500,000 and Buegel is expected back in court on March 21, 2023.

Chicago Man Sentenced to 21 Years for Armed Robbery Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin Donuts

By T. C. Mayfield, The Chicago Times

February 24, 2023

WHEATON – A Chicago man has been sentenced to 21-years in the Illinois Department of Corrects for his alleged part in the robbery of a suburban Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin Donuts.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin announced that Devonte Johnson, 23, entered a plea of guilty on February 23, to two felony counts of armed robbery in front of Judge Ann Celine O’Hallaren Walsh. 

Devonte Johnson. Photo: DuPage County State’s Attorney.

According to the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office, on January 4, 2020, Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of an armed robbery at the Domino’s Pizza located at 5531 Belmont Road in unincorporated Downers Grove.  On scene, it was discovered that the suspects had already fled. Through the course of their investigation, Sheriff’s deputies discovered that at approximately 1:29 pm, two male subjects, one later identified as Johnson, entered the Domino’s Pizza where Johnson allegedly walked behind the counter and pointed a gun at the cashier demanding money from both the register and safe.  After the cashier complied, Johnson and his still unidentified accomplice allegedly fled the scene in a Mercedes-Benz that had been reported stolen earlier that day in Bolingbrook. 

Authorities later discovered that shortly before the armed robbery at the Domino’s Pizza, at approximately 1:19 pm that same day, two male suspects, one later identified as Johnson, entered a Dunkin Donuts located at 4300 Lincoln Avenue, Lisle, where the unidentified accomplice pointed a loaded firearm at the cashier and demanded money from the cash register. After the clerk complied, the unidentified suspect ordered the cashier to open the safe.  After the cashier opened the safe, the two suspects took money from the safe and then fled the scene.

Later that day, Johnson and several other individuals were allegedly involved in a high-speed pursuit in the stolen Mercedes, which ended in a crash.  Following the crash, Johnson fled the scene on foot but was later taken into custody.  A loaded gun was discovered by authorities approximately four hundred yards away from the crash.

“In DuPage County, we take violent gun crimes very seriously, as Mr. Johnson learned today.  The fact that Mr. Johnson used a stolen vehicle to commit two armed robberies where he terrorized two individuals who were just trying to make an honest living is extremely disturbing. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies involved however, Mr. Johnson’s one-day crime spree will not go unpunished, as he now finds himself facing twenty-one-years behind bars. I thank Assistant State’s Attorney Claudia Fantauzzo for her efforts in holding Mr. Johnson accountable for his crimes.” Berlin said in a statement.

Illinois Lottery Player Wins Nearly $1 Million

By Joseph Accardo, The Chicago Times

February 23, 2023

CHICAGO – An Illinois Lottery player won nearly $1 million making it the biggest Fast Play jackpot ever.

The Illinois Lottery said the player won $979,168 playing Fast Play Twenty 20s.  Twenty 20s is a $20 progressive jackpot Fast Play game that starts with a jackpot of $50,000 and grows with each ticket sold statewide until the winning ticket is called.

According to Lottery officials, the winning ticket was purchased on Saturday, February 18 at a Shell gas station, located at 4800 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago.  The Shell station owner will receive a bonus of nearly $9,800, which is one percent of the prize amount.

Just a short two months ago, an Illinois iLottery player from Chicago won the second biggest Fast Play jackpot  of almost $925,000 playing Twenty 20s online.