MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Under the pressure of a joint investigation of the Tennessee Department of Health and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a former director of a Midtown medical clinic has ratted out his former employer for suspicion of insurance fraud.
"I'm resigning my position there because, for lack of better words, it's shady," said Shon Knott, a licensed nurse and former director of Premium Medical Services, aka Preferred One Medical PLLC, 2670 Union Extended, Suite 903 in Midtown Memphis.
Knott's confessions are an about-face to how he responded in our February investigation. Back then, he denied his clinic was part of a telemarketing scheme run by Roger William Byrd, a disgraced former Tennessee chiropractor, and his company RWB Management Co., Inc., of Jupiter, Florida. Our investigation -- aided by one of the company's former telemarketers, insurance crime investigators and multiple car accident victims who were solicited -- revealed the company's representatives would pull the names of car accident victims from public police reports, then solicit them, posing as a quasi-governmental agency called the Accident Victims Advocacy Bureau. The solicitations, some of them less than 24 hours after the accident, violated Tennessee medical ethics rules that prohibit medical personnel and their representatives from soliciting auto accident victims within 30 days of their crashes.
"I mean, it was not very professional," said Germantown, Tennessee's Jenny Earhart. Her accident report and phone records revealed Knott's clinic operation solicited her four days after her accident. "I wasn't even hurt."
"No medical business is supposed to contact you and solicit you to come in," said Lauren Gonzalez, a West Memphis, Arkansas, nursing student whom Knott's clinic solicited less than 24 hours after her crash. "I already told (the telemarketer) I was like, 'I'm not hurt.' But she gave me a PIN number and said someone from the clinic would call me to confirm my appointment."
Someone did. Gonzalez shared the voicemail recording with us. It was Shon Knott, confirming an appointment to treat an accident victim who plainly disclosed she was unhurt.
Knott told us he knew that all of the patients coming to be treated at his clinic were patients listed "not at-fault" in their accidents. "Oh, yeah, they're all accident victims," he said. He also admitted that some of those who kept their appointments may not have been hurt, yet they received billable 'physical therapy' he says was nothing more than a ride on a stationary bike. "A recumbent, stationary exercise bike that was purchased at Sears, I believe. I put it together," he said. "A couple of yoga balls that have been there I don't know how long. We weren't really providing them treatment. We were allowing them access to the equipment."
Patricia Hester, the NICB investigator working this case, confirmed she and Shirley Pickering, investigator for the state health department, are investigating Knott's now-former employer and as many as five other similar schemes in Shelby County. She said in each case, out-of-state telemarketing outfits solicit Memphis-area accident victims for free treatment at local medical clinics. The treatment, she said, is actually billed to the insurance company of the "at-fault" driver named in the crash reports.
"It is illegal," Hester said. "This is insurance fraud because if you don't have an injury, and you go to the doctor, you're receiving medical treatment you may not need. (Knott) could be held liable for what has been happening at that clinic."
"Now as far as billing goes, I don't know," insisted Knott. "All that information is sent to a corporate office. I don't have any dealings with an insurance company, never spoken to any insurance company or anything like that."
Yet we ran into Qiarah Bookman, an East Memphis accident victim, as she showed up for her appointment at Knott's clinic after she, too, was solicited by his employer's telemarketers. She said she walked out on her treatment after an employee revealed the clinic's billing secret. "She was like, 'Actually, the person who was at-fault is going to be billed for this,'" said Bookman.
"That is insurance fraud," Hester said. "They all know what's going on."
We asked Knott knowing what he knows now, does he believe he was working for an illegal operation? "Knowing what I know now, I don't know the law," he answered. "And knowing that now, and thank you for your efforts, it did prompt me to leave, and any investigation, if I'm contacted for any reason, of course I will cooperate fully."
Tennessee health regulators revoked Byrd's chiropractor license in 2008 for using a 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." As he has done the previous two times we have tried to reach him as the telemarketing mastermind behind this scheme, he has ignored our attempts to reach him for comment.
We left a voicemail message for Kathleen Pelligrino, the person in Florida who Knott said was his direct supervisor. She did not return our call, but Knott called us after his interview to say Pelligrino called him, played our voicemail message for him over the phone, then fired him before he could submit his resignation.