Three former top officials of a Mercer County nonprofit health care company and two businessmen from Ohio have been indicted in federal court in Pittsburgh on charges of defrauding the medical concern of some $2 million through a series of complex fake invoice and false-billing schemes over the span of nearly 10 years.
A 17-count indictment handed up on Tuesday and unsealed Thursday named Drew Pierce, 55, the former CEO of Primary Health Network of Sharon; Mark Marriott, 56, the former facilities manager for the nonprofit; and John Laeng, 70, also a former CEO at PHN.
Also named were John O’Brien, 60, who controlled Keystone Tele-Data in Masury, Ohio; and Christopher O’Brien, 58, owner of Excel Construction Services in Masury.
Masury is a small community on the Pennsylvania border near Sharon.
Primary Health Network receives federal money for its doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners and others to provide services for residents in rural Mercer County regardless of their ability to pay.
From 2011-19, the five defrauded the nonprofit through a web of schemes unraveled by the Pittsburgh FBI and the criminal investigation division of the IRS, according to the indictment.
Pierce, of West Middlesex, had been the chief financial officer from 2011-14 and the CEO from 2014-20. Laeng, also of West Middlesex, was the CEO from 2011-14, then became president of FQHC-MSF, another nonprofit in Sharon created to start a new health center in Lewistown, Pa. Marriott, of Hermitage, was in charge of hiring all contractors at Primary Health Network.
In the first scheme, Pierce, Marriott, Laeng and John O’Brien conspired to submit false invoices to Primary Health Network and another related company, Lewistown-MSF, for services performed by TopCoat LLC, a purported management company half-owned by Marriott and half-owned by a purported ice cream parlor business called ThreeSDJ LLC based out of Pierce’s house in West Middlesex. ThreeSDJ was in turn owned by Pierce, Laeng and an unidentified “co-conspirator 1,” a lawyer who worked for Primary Health Network.
In reality, the grand jury said, TopCoat did no work, but the conspirators had Primary Health Network pay the bills “thereby enriching themselves.” Marriott, as the facilities manager, approved the false invoices while Pierce used checks from TopCoat to pay other legitimate vendors, the grand jury said. Pierce then paid a portion of TopCoat’s profits to Marriott and ThreeSDJ.
Laeng was also president of FQHC-MSF in Sharon, and Pierce was president of Palu Investment Group, a subsidiary of Primary Health Network. The two of them created Lewistown-MSF to develop and build a health care center in Lewistown, Pa., for which Marriott would be the construction manager.
In 2016, the grand jury said, John O’Brien caused Keystone Tele-Data to provide Marriott with an “inflated bid” of $361,000 for “systems” services at the Lewistown project. The “systems” budget was set at $574,000. At the time of the bid, Pierce directed that Keystone enter into a contract for “systems” with TopCoat rather than Lewistown so TopCoat could bill Lewistown the full-budget amount and then pay Keystone the lower contract amount, the grand jury said.
The conspirators pulled similar versions of that scheme repeatedly in 2017, 2018 and 2019, according to the grand jury, with Pierce paying the TopCoat profits to Marriott and ThreeSDJ. Pierce and Laeng then had ThreeSDJ pay out the funds from TopCoat to themselves and the unidentified lawyer.
In exchange for the inflated bids for systems services, John O’Brien paid kickbacks from Keystone to Marriott, including personal lumber invoices and $15,000 in 2018.
In another scheme, the grand jury said Pierce and Laeng conspired with others from 2011 through 2019 to have Primary Health Network and Lewistown-MSF pay inflated amounts to an unnamed “Development Consultant 1” who then made payments to a firm called JDS Healthcare Strategies owned by Pierce, Laeng and the unnamed lawyer. The consultant contracted with JDS to pay half of the fee the consultant received from Primary Health Network and other entities for development work, although JDS’s officers did no work.
Pierce and Laeng also caused Primary Health Network to enter into inflated contracts with the consultant related to construction worth more than $1 million and concealed the fact that the payments were funds paid to JDS through the consultant. Pierce and Laeng caused JDS to pay the profits from the scheme to themselves and the lawyer, the grand jury said.
Yet another scheme involved Pierce, Marriott and Christopher O’Brien. In this one, the three and others enriched themselves by having Primary Health Network pay Excel Construction inflated amounts for purported contracting services through PenKey Holdings, a purported real estate business based out of Pierce’s house and owned by Pierce and Marriott.
In 2019, for instance, Pierce directed someone identified only as “Individual 2,” who ran a flooring company, to ask Christopher O’Brien about how to obtain funds. O’Brien then told the person to create fake invoices to Excel from his flooring company, which the conspirators then had Primary Health Network pay.
In addition to all the other false-invoice schemes, the grand jury said Pierce and Marriott enriched themselves by using Primary Health Network funds for themselves and by having the company’s employees do work on their houses when they were supposed to be working at PHN.
Acting U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti praised the work of federal agents on the case and said such fraud schemes against a nonprofit medical organization “does great indirect harm to the patients these organizations are created to help.”
Mike Nordwall, head of the FBI in Pittsburgh, described the crimes as “egregious” while his counterpart at the IRS, Yury Kruty, said ripping off a nonprofit “is a crime that needs to be punished.”