MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A whistle-blower revealed a Florida-based telemarketing scheme that's luring car accident victims to a Memphis-area clinic for unethical medical treatment that may constitute insurance fraud, according to state regulations and insurance sources.
Niki Walker contacted the WMC Action News 5 Investigators after quitting a telemarketing job in Palm Beach County, Florida. Her payroll records indicated her employer was RWB Management Co., Inc., of Jupiter, Florida. "It was just very unprofessional, and something just didn't seem right with them," Walker said in a Skype interview.
Walker said she worked with a team of telemarketers in an office at 2171 Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, West Palm Beach, Florida. She shared pictures of wipe-board assignments and call sheets indicating the team was cold-calling car crash victims from police accident reports in four Tennessee municipalities, including Memphis. Walker and her call records showed she was referring victims listed "not at fault" on the reports to attend free therapy sessions at Preferred One Medical PLLC, 2670 Union Extended, Suite 903 in Midtown Memphis.
"I would tell them you'll come in, get some adjustments, you'll see the physician, maybe you need to have your back realigned if you're having headaches or some kind of discomfort," said Walker. "We would let them know that they could come in and actually be seen by the specialist at no cost to them,"
"She said the therapy was free," said Qiarah Bookman of East Memphis. Bookman was in a Memphis car accident Dec. 21. She said within a week, she was solicited by phone to be treated by Shon Knott, licensed practical nurse and medical director of Preferred One Medical PLLC. "'We need you to come in, we heard you were in an accident, blah, blah, blah,'" Bookman said the telemarketer told her, even though Bookman had no evidence of injury.
"(The treatments) are not free," said independent insurance agent Bennita Wade of Memphis. "They are billing the insurance company of the at-fault party in the accident."
Walker confirmed RWB Management Co., Inc., would bill the at-fault party's insurance company. "That way (the not at-fault accident victims) won't have to pay so that an attorney can come in and actually pursue that insurance company of the person who was at fault," she said.
Bookman said she left Preferred One Medical PLLC before her treatment started because a clinic worker revealed the billing secret. "She was like, 'Actually, the person who was at-fault is going to be billed for this,'" Bookman said.
We asked Wade if this amounted to insurance fraud. "Absolutely," she replied. "There's possibly no injury there, and they're going to rack up tons of dollars and somebody has to pay for it. That's us through higher insurance premiums across the board."
"I mean, my mouth hit the floor," Bookman reacted.
"I even called some of my clients back to let them know I apologize," Walker confessed. "I didn't know because I wouldn't even want you to do this to my granny, my mom, anybody. I felt bad."
Tennessee medical ethics rules prohibit the solicitation of auto accident victims for profit. Postal and business records link RWB Management, Co., Inc. to former Tennessee chiropractor Roger William Byrd. In 2008, the Tennessee Board of Chiropractic Examiners revoked Byrd's chiropractic license because he was using his Palm Beach County, Florida, office "...to telemarket accident victims in Tennessee in violation of Rule 0260-2-.20(6) of the Tennessee Board of Chiropractic Examiners." That rule prohibits chiropractors from soliciting car accident victims for profitable medical treatment within 30 days of their accidents.
"It is the Board's contention that (Byrd) has engaged in a continuing pattern of telemarketing in violation of the Rules of the Tennessee Board of Chiropractic Examiners over a number of years using a number of employees at various clinics to date," read the board's final order. The WMC Action News 5 Investigators first reported Byrd's suspension in this 2009 investigation of another chiropractor in violation of the telemarketing rule.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Knott, the clinic director, when we confronted him at Preferred One Medical PLLC. "I see the patients that come to see me. I don't handle billing. It's done at a corporate level. The billing department is at a corporate office."
In a phone conversation, Knott said that corporate office is in West Palm Beach, Florida, where Walker and other telemarketers solicited crash victims for treatment at his clinic. "I don't have any knowledge of telemarketing," he said. "We do accept referrals of accident victims. We get them by fax and appointment. Sometime, they show up. Some don't. The faxes come from Florida. The treatments are done on a sheet and sent to a corporate office in Florida. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention, & I will look into this with my employer to see if there is anything that should be of personal concern to me."
It was of enough personal concern to Niki Walker that she quit, then Googled Byrd's name. Her search turned up the link to our 2009 investigation. "He didn't want any ties with us," she said. "When he came in, he came with a baseball cap on. He was kind of being incognito with us, and it just seemed shady. We've been lying to these people, and it's not right."
Byrd did not respond to calls or to an email. Neither did his telemarketing office manager.