Vernier sentenced to 18 months
Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 20, 2022
He was the former owner of Community Counseling and Treatment Services, Inc.
Paul Vernier, the former owner of Community Counseling and Treatment Services, Inc. (CCTS), was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $10,000 on Thursday in the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court of Judge Christen Finley. He had already pleaded guilty to two fourth degree felony counts of Medicaid fraud on Feb. 5.
In March 2019, Vernier was indicted on three counts of third-degree felony Medicaid fraud, 12 counts of money laundering, 17 counts of third-degree felony trafficking in drugs, one count of first-degree felony aggravated theft and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
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All but two of those counts were dropped when Vernier agreed to plead guilty to the two of the Medicaid fraud charges, which the state alleged that he deceptively got $3.9 million in payments from the Ohio Department of Medicaid by making false or misleading statements to get reimbursement from the Medicaid program.
Prosecutor Christopher Kinsler, with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said that they sent in undercover police officers who posed as Medicaid recipients in need of drug counseling and that the officers saw that group counseling sessions had 20–50 people and only one counselor. Under Medicaid rules, the group counseling sessions were limited to 12 patients to one counselor. The officers also reported that people would sign in and then not attend the meeting. Sessions were often chaotic and shorter than what Medicaid was then billed for.
Kinsler said that security video was seized from CCTS and that it appeared doctors were seeing patients for four minutes and billing Medicaid for 30 minutes.
“CCTS was all about the money,” Kinsler said. “That is the case in a nutshell.”
Vernier had a drug addiction problem three decades ago before getting clean and staying clean and becoming a licensed chemical dependency counselor in Ohio and Kentucky. He continued his work as a dependency counselor in Kentucky until recently.
Defense attorney Matthew Wisecup said that “Paul truly cares” and that it was always about treating patients to get off drugs despite the state making it look like the case “was all about money.” He said that Vernier’s earlier addiction issues made him an effective counselor and advocate and that when he opened CCTS he was on the forefront of battling the opioid epidemic.
He also pointed out that Vernier had a monitor on him since 2019 and had not broken any of the court’s conditions of his pre-trial release on bond.
Wisecup asked the court to sentence Vernier to probation rather than prison time since the chance of Vernier committing this type of crime was highly unlikely.
Vernier spoke to the judge before sentencing. He said he opened up CCTS to help people and that it grew really fast in the first year and didn’t taper off. Vernier opened CCTS in December 2011 on State Route 93 and it was Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services certified and a non-profit drug treatment center specializing in the treatment of opiate addiction. There were two clinics in Scioto County in addition to the one Lawrence County. He said he was in the process of getting a larger building in Coal Grove when the state raided his offices and home.
“It was never about money, it was about helping people,” he said.
He talked about how his clinic was allowed by the state to prescribe medication to help people get off drugs and he chose Suboxone over another medication because it blocks opioid receptors and cut urges for drugs. He also talked about buying school supplies for all his employees children and making donations to a local organizations and not calling the media to cover it.
“I feel like I have helped save people’s lives,” Vernier said. “Looking back, I can see where mistakes were made and I take responsibility as the owner and CEO. I felt like I was fighting an honorable, justified war against drugs.
He told the judge that he has already contacted the agencies in Kentucky and Ohio and surrendered his counseling license after he agreed to plead guilty so they “wouldn’t have to chase me down.”
“I am a good man, I love and care about people and I try to help,” he told the court. “I just ask the court for probation so I can continue to help people. The state is trying to make it look like it is about money. I am not that person.”
Judge Finley said that she believed that he was a good person but the case was about Medicaid fraud and that her task was about a sentence, not the quality of the person.
She then sentenced him to 18 months on each count with the sentences to run at the same time, meaning that he will serve 18 months in jail. She said that she would consider judicial release when it came up.
Vernier also forfeited property, although that is currently tied up with a civil suit in a Kentucky federal court.
The judge denied Vernier time to get his affairs in order and he was immediately taken into custody.