Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Federal prosecutors unveiled a new 18-count grand jury indictment that adds charges of money laundering and increases the counts of health care fraud

Anderson Guest Home owner facing money laundering, fraud charges
By Marcus Kabel • Associated Press Writer • April 15, 2008

Springfield, Mo. — The owner of a Missouri group home where 11 people died in a 2006 fire faces a raft of new federal charges along with his wife and daughter.

Federal prosecutors unveiled a new 18-count grand jury indictment that adds charges of money laundering and increases the counts of health care fraud against Robert DuPont, 63, of Joplin.

DuPont allegedly ran five southwest Missouri group homes for the mentally ill despite having a 2002 felony conviction for Medicaid fraud that barred him from operating a business that bills Medicaid.
He pleaded not guilty last year to one count of health care fraud in the original indictment. The new indictment, which includes charges of health care fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, replaces the previous one.

DuPont’s Springfield attorney, Stuart Huffman, said Tuesday that his client also plans to plead not guilty to the new charges.

The new indictment for the first time also charges DuPont’s wife, LaVerne, 72, and daughter Kelley Wheeler, 45, as well as Joplin River of Life Ministries, a nonprofit created by the DuPonts to run the homes they owned.

Those facilities included the Anderson Guest House, where a blaze in November 2006 killed 11 people in the deadliest group home fire in Missouri since 25 people were killed at a care home in Farmington in 1979.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the nation’s deadliest fire in a facility for older adults since 1950 was at the Katie Jane Nursing Home in Warrenton, where 72 people were killed.

The new indictment, filed April 2 and unsealed Monday, alleges that Robert DuPont formed the nonprofit ministry and installed LaVerne as the nominal head to hide the fact that he was still effectively in charge, even while he was in prison from March 2003 through August 2004.
There was no answer Tuesday at a Joplin home number listed for the DuPonts. Wheeler’s attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.

Court records showed Wheeler was free on bond and had not entered a plea ahead of an arraignment set for May 16.

Robert DuPont remains free on bond. The new charges mean DuPont’s trial on the original count will not go ahead as scheduled Monday, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney said.

The new indictment alleges that the ministry illegally collected more than $725,000 from Medicaid between September 2003 and November 2006.

It also alleges that DuPont wrote two letters while he was in prison that show he was making decisions and issuing orders to others on how to run the guest houses.

The 18 counts each carry maximum prison terms between five and 20 years, according to the indictment. LaVerne DuPont faces two counts of health care fraud and conspiracy, while Wheeler faces two counts of health care fraud and money laundering. DuPont faces those counts, plus more charges of money laundering and conspiracy.

DuPont also faces a state lawsuit and multiple wrongful death lawsuits that allege he was negligent, but the federal indictment is the only criminal case.

State fire investigators ruled out arson in the Anderson blaze but said the cause would remain undetermined because the building was totally gutted. They said faulty electrical wiring in the attic of the one-story home was the most likely cause.

DuPont has repeatedly denied any negligence and has disputed that attic wiring caused the fire.

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