Last year was a tough one for the We Care Clinic of Phoenix, a small, private practice rocked by a high-profile scandal involving a woman who posed as a doctor.
The Arizona Attorney General's slammed the woman, Olena "Helen" Kulakova, and a real doctor who worked at the clinic, Paul Balikian, with a 93-count indictment for fraud, theft and conspiracy in January of 2009.
An investigation had revealed that, in 2006 and 2007, Kulakova was improperly treating patients and bilking funds from the state while Balikian looked the other way. She was released from jail last month.
Andrey Yevchuk, the manager and principal member of We Care Clinic, LLC, tells New Times he hopes the sordid story will be forgotten. The clinic near 35th Avenue and Bethany Home Road will keep its name and continue to serve families in the area, he says.
The clinic's new physician, Patricia Sullivan, is a bonafide MD, according to the Arizona Medical Board's Web site, (and her record shows no disciplinary action by the Board, either, in case you were wondering).
Yevchuk says neither Dr. Balikian nor Kulakova ever "wanted to do anything bad for the people in the community." He says Kulakova, a native of the Ukraine, was bilingual and helped the clinic connect with local Russian patients.
His understanding of the case is that Kulakova wrote several unauthorized prescriptions for a few patients, and the state hit her with a felony count for each occurrence.
However, records show the problem was a bit more serious than that. Nobody was harmed in the scheme, but Kulakova examined patients and billed the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) for some of the services. Balikian knew she was a phony and signed off on her charts, anyway, the state alleged.
Besides the fraud aspect, a look at the indictment reveals that a lot of the illegitimate prescriptions written by Kulakova under Balikian's name were for drugs people enjoy abusing, like Percoset, Vicodin and Xanax. She wrote two prescriptions for Vicodin for herself.
Most of the counts were dropped when Kulakova and Balikian took plea deals.
Kulakova pleaded guilty to fraud, theft and money laundering, and was sentenced to six months in jail, five years of probation and 900 community hours. She was also ordered to pay $144,138 in restitution to AHCCCS, and $5,000 to reimburse investigators, in $250-a-month installments starting next month.
The state let Balikian plead to just one count of felony "securing the proceeds of an offense." He was sentenced to six months of probation and ordered to pay $25,000 in one lump sum to the state in January.
Court records show that Kulakova's jail sentence expired last month, but the fake doc, (who does have extensive medical training, according to Yevchuk), might soon be back behind bars.
The feds accuse her and Dr. Kenneth Ferguson of the Huntington Beach Medical Center of defrauding Medicare of $759,000 in a scheme similar to the one she and Balikian ran here.
In that case, court records show, Kulakova (who isn't licensed to practice medicine in California, either) gave patients hasty check-ups but billed Medicare for comprehensive examinations, which were supposedly conducted by Ferguson.
A federal grand jury indicted the pair on fourteen counts of fraud back in October of 2006; Kulakova was arrested in Phoenix in September of 2007, days after she had a baby.
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A trial for Kulakova and Ferguson is now set for this October, records show.
Yevchuk says the We Care Clinic brought in new managers in 2007, once details of the Arizona and California investigations came to light.
"Whatever legal issues (Kulakova and Balikian) have, it's their problem," Yevchuk says.
For patients of We Care Clinic, knowing the doctor is really a doctor must be a relief.