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Optometry practice owner jailed for $4 million Medicare theft

A Sydney optometry practice operator has received a five-year prison sentence for defrauding Medicare out of more than $4 million.

Ms Tisha Thi Thi Phan, owner of I Design Optical stores in Macquarie Fields and Minto, submitted almost 30,000 fraudulent claims for more than 49,000 optometry services that were never provided to patients.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the 37-year-old used the Medicare provider numbers of six optometrists who worked for the businesses to falsely lodge services for more than 5,000 patients recorded in the business’ database, as well as other people who were named on Medicare cards of patients. The crimes took place over 18 months, ending in March 2015.

“The six optometrists employed by the business were unaware that their Medicare provider numbers were being used to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare,” a statement of agreed facts reportedly stated.

NSW District Court Judge Leonie Flannery jailed Phan on Novber 23 for a maximum of five years, with a non-parole period of three years. She had previously pleaded guilty to obtaining a financial advantage by deception and attempting to obtain a financial advantage by deception.

The false claims related to patient consultations, contact lens services and computerised perimetry tests. None of the services were made in Phan’s own name as she wasn’t an optometrist and did not have an assigned provider number.

Phan made $4,046,671 in fraudulent Medicare benefits as a result of the scheme, and also submitted almost 12,000 further claims worth more than $870,000 that were rejected.

Police raided the optometry practices in February 2016 and seized computer hard drives, electronic storage devices and EFTPOS receipts relating to Medicare claims. The fraudulently claimed services were not found on either of the practices’ hard drives.

During a formal interview with investigators in March 2016, Phan denied making the claims but admitted to receiving and spending the proceeds that were paid into her personal bank account.

She later contacted investigators to request a second interview, during which she admitted to her offending. In a letter to investigators, Phan expressed her rorse as well as a desire to repay the amount she had dishonestly taken.

She has repaid $43,600 to date.