ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Dr. Mark Evanko calls it, “Despicable.”
Physicans Assistant Rosalind DeGeorge call it, “Dishonest and Fraudulent.”
And New Mexico Insurance Superintendent John Franchini calls it, “A tragic deal and … very, very serious.”
According to a two-month KRQE News 13 investigation, a large New Mexico health care organization with clinics throughout the state has been quietly embezzling from its employees.
The focus of the KRQE News 13 investigation is on Atrinea Health, a firm that operates Urgent Care and Family Practice offices across New Mexico.
Last year, Atrinea Health’s financial condition was so desperate the company teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. In desperate need of cash, company executives secretly raided employee benefit accounts. The medical corporation embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from its employees. Money that was supposed to go towards health insurance and retirement plans was illegally diverted to pay company bills.
Dr. Mark Evanko worked for Atrinea Health at its Los Lunas clinic.
“It’s a feeling of being violated. I’m not an investigator but it seems illegal to me,” Dr. Evanko said.
“It’s not acceptable to take other people’s money,” said Rosalind DeGeorge who also worked for Atrinea in Los Lunas.
When asked if Atrinea took employee insurance premiums and spent it someplace else, CEO Drew Markell admitted, “It appears that way.”
According to former State Insurance Superintendent Chris Krahling, any time an employer diverts employee benefit money, “It’s an egregious breach of trust between the employer and the employee.”
“It is a direct violation of the fiduciary responsibility that an employer has to their employees. It’s morally wrong. It’s ethically wrong and it flies right in the face of every decent business practice … I can ever think of,” Krahling said.
Dr. Evanko knows the problem first hand. Every two weeks Atrinea took $157 out of Dr. Evanko’s paycheck for a Voluntary Life Insurance Policy. However, instead of forwarding that money to the insurance company for Mark’s life insurance, Atrinea spent the funds elsewhere.
Because Atrinea failed to pay the insurance premiums on time, the Lincoln Financial Insurance Company told KRQE News 13 it was forced to cancel the policy. That was last July. Even though employees no longer had life insurance, Atrinea continued to deduct the money from their pay checks anyway. Markell says Lincoln Financial is owed about $9000 in unpaid premiums.
Dr. Evanko calls Atrinea’s diversion of his money, “despicable.” After repeated phone conversations with Drew Markell about his missing money, Markell abruptly fired him last month.
Insurance Superintendent Franchini says people could go to jail for intentionally taking employee benefit money.
“Employers need to understand that that is not their money and they could get in serious trouble if they take someone else’s money and use it for another purpose,” Franchini said.
“It’s a serious transgression. It’s stealing,” Franchini adds.
And, it’s not just life insurance premiums. Atrinea Health also looted some $40,000 from its employee retirement accounts. Physician’s Assistant Rosalind DeGeorge is missing more than $3000.
“That is despicable that they would take our money and basically divert it to some other cause,” DeGeorge says.
And when Rosalind inquired about her missing 401(K) funds she too was fired. So where is her retirement money today?
“I believe Mr. Markell still has it somewhere,” DeGeorge says.
KRQE News 13 asked Atrinea CEO Markell about the missing 401(K) funds.
“It’s not missing. It didn’t make it to the 401(K),” Markell said.
Markell denies it was embezzlement. “I don’t think that necessarily fair,” Markell told KRQE News 13.
“(The money is) not missing. It’s not where it’s supposed to be,” Markell added. He claims he did not know that a former Atrinea executive had improperly diverted the retirement funds.
“The person who was in charge of that is no longer here. Once I became aware of that situation and it was determined that my directives were ignored I immediately put a corrective action plan into place,” Markell said.
However, Rosalind DeGeorge isn’t buying Markell’s explanation.
“I do not believe that it is possible (Markell did not know). If it is possible then he’s an absolutely awful CEO. He should know what’s going on in his own company,” DeGeorge said.
The U.S. Department of Labor, which regulates corporate retirement funds, has been notified of the Atrinea situation and is investigating.
And, it’s not just retirement funds that are missing. Last May, Atrinea stopped paying the premiums for group health insurance, even though the money was still being deducted from employee pay checks. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield Atrinea owes $227,000 for unpaid health insurance premiums.
KRQE News 13 asked Markell why the employee’s money did not go to Blue Cross Blue Shield?
“The money wasn’t here for them to be paid,” Markell said.
Markell says it’s not fraudulent. “We just simply were not a position to be able to pay the premiums to Blue Cross Blue Shield,” Atrinea’s CEO said
In May 2015 Atrinea Health filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Last month, the health care organization shut down for good. Urgent Care clinics in Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Ruidoso and Santa Fe were closed and the remaining employees were let go. Even though Atrinea is out of business, the firm is now under investigation for insurance fraud.
“There is a major investigation going on at this time in regard to the illegal transfer of employee money for other purposes besides protecting the employee and their benefits,” said Insurance Superintendent Franchini.
“I can’t be exactly sure who within the organization has stolen our money but somebody has,” said former Atrinea employee Rosalind DeGeorge.
“I sincerely hope that they get what they deserve,” DeGeorge added.