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Pittsford psychiatrist charged with fraud

Department of Justice

A Pittsford psychiatrist has been charged with health care fraud after FBI investigators said he forged his medical board certification and charged insurance companies for services he did not provide, according to a complaint filed in federal court.

Prosecutors said Muhammad Cheema regularly changed the codes on patients’ office visits to indicate that he spent more time with them than he actually did, and that he billed telephone appointments as office visits.

The FBI investigation began after health insurer Excellus reported to the agency that Cheema “routinely and systematically changed office billing codes,” according to the 17-page complaint. The FBI goes on to describe video surveillance of Cheema’s office, investigations of his patient records and computers, interviews with his patients, and video and audio from an undercover agent posing as a patient.

Cheema worked about 20 hours a week at Rochester Regional Health during the investigation, the FBI said. A spokesman for the company said he “resigned by his own choosing” in January 2017, and “it does not appear by the list of things that he is charged with [to] have anything to do with billing associated with Rochester Regional Health.”

The FBI set up video surveillance of Cheema’s private practice, Upstate Psychiatry in Pittsford, in 2016, the agency said. On one of the days they watched his office, investigators reported that, given the number of patients seen and the time Cheema was inside, he could have spent no more than 14 minutes with each patient, assuming he took no breaks and was face-to-face with a patient the entire time he was in his office.

Cheema billed insurance for 25-minute appointments that day, the FBI said.

Investigators also interviewed some of Cheema's patients, according to the complaint. One of those patients said her appointments with Cheema “lasted approximately 5 minutes and were pointless.”

An undercover FBI investigator posing as a patient also saw Cheema for an appointment that lasted five minutes and a phone appointment that lasted three minutes, the agency said. Cheema billed the phone appointment as an office visit, and the office visit as a much longer appointment.

Cheema did not respond to calls to his office or his personal number.

The FBI estimates Cheema submitted approximately $1.8 million in fraudulent claims.

The charges against him carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.