- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Four employees of a defunct Carlsbad mental health center are facing Medicaid fraud charges after a statewide investigation into Medicaid providers, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Tuesday.

In a statement, Balderas said he filed criminal complaints in Eddy County Magistrate Court against Michael Stoll, Noel Clark, Darrill Woodfield and John Bain - all former top personnel at Carlsbad Mental Health Center.

Each were charged with eight counts of Medicaid fraud under the Medicaid Fraud Act, one count of conspiracy and one count of fraud involving non-Medicaid funds.

Also charged was Carlsbad Mental Health Center as a corporation, which can still faces criminal charges as an entity even though it is no longer providing services, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said.

“We will aggressively defend victims of fraud and abuse by prosecuting providers who violate the public trust,” Balderas said. “The Medicaid Fraud and Elder Abuse Division is actively investigating Medicaid fraud across the state to keep pressure on New Mexico medical and behavioral health providers to work honestly on the public’s behalf.”

No numbers were listed for Michael Stoll and John Bain for their New Mexico homes. No number was listed for Noel Clark at his Dalhart, Texas, residence. No one answered a phone call for a number listed for Darril Woodfield to his Carlsbad home.

A person who answered to a listing formerly for Carlsbad Mental Health Center says the center no longer exists and she didn’t have any contact information for those still connected with it.

It was not known if any of the men facing charges had attorneys.

Department of Human Services officials saw the charges as a vindication after a highly politicized 2013 audit of mental health centers prompted the shake-up of nonprofit providers. The audit alleged $36 million in state Medicaid funding was mishandled by the 15 nonprofit providers. That prompted Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration to freeze Medicaid payments to the providers while the attorney general’s office launched an investigation.

The Human Services Department eventually replaced the nonprofits with companies from Arizona despite protests that the due-process rights of the nonprofit providers were violated when the state froze payments without hearings.

Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest said a whistleblower tipped off state authorities about suspicious billing at Carlsbad Mental Health Center, which led to the audit of the 15 providers. “It certainly speaks to the seriousness of the referrals,” Earnest said.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for Balderas, confirmed that the concerns about Carlsbad Mental Health Center were referred to then-Attorney General Gary King before that audit. The office then launched an investigation, he said.

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras.

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