Former drug counselor sentenced

CHARLOTTE – A West Mecklenburg County woman and Charlotte drug counselor convicted of money laundering, healthcare fraud and firearms violation charges was sentenced to serve 92 months in federal prison, followed by three years parole, announced U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins Oct. 17.

Sarah Lavonne Willis, 49, was charged in November 2010 with health care fraud, money laundering and failure to file tax returns. According to filed court documents and court proceedings, from 2007 to 2010, Willis falsely billed the North Carolina Medical Assistance Program, or Medicaid, for behavioral therapy services that she did not provide and were not eligible for reimbursement. The claims were submitted for juvenile and adult beneficiaries who either received behavioral therapy services at Willis’ company, Willis Adolescent and Adult Services, at 6101 Idlewild Road, and discontinued service or never received care to begin with. According to the 27-count indictment, the Certified Substance Abuse Counselor and former drug addict returned to abusing crack cocaine and alcohol in 2008, which eventually interfered with her ability to provide services to patients. The indictment states that she used the total $1,085,041.78 to purchase a $100,000 Bentley, $40,000 Hummer H2 and $14,000 Dodge Charger and three stays at the Ritz Carlton.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Willis “also routinely submitted claims for individual therapy services which exceeded 24 hours in a single day, with some claimed services exceeding 80 hours per day.” Willis also used the money to bail herself out of jail in December 2009 and did not file tax returns for 2008. She entered a guilty plea in February.

Under a separate indictment, filed in March 2010, Willis was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, stemming from an incident that occurred on Feb. 25, 2010. Willis was arrested after officers found a Hi-Point, model C-9, semi-automatic 9-mm pistol in her purse, located in a vehicle of which she was a passenger, as well as crack pipes. The weapon had been stolen from the trunk of another vehicle about seven weeks earlier. She pled guilty to the federal firearms violation in October 2010.

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