In the case of Tshombe Anderson, ripping off the Department of Labor was a family affair. So is incarceration. On April 19, Anderson, a Dallas-based union lawyer and owner of a number of medical supply companies, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas to 10 years in prison for his role as chief organizer in a scam that fraudulently obtained worker’s compensation benefits. He also was ordered to pay $26,572,458.93 in restitution. Anderson had pleaded guilty last August to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Deemed a flight risk, he’s been in custody since his August 2015 arrest. Three family members are awaiting sentencing. The actions follow a probe by the Offices of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Postal Service.
The saga of Tshombe Anderson, whose roots lay in Zimbabwe, overlaps with a similar one from the Lone Star state masterminded by one Garry Craighead, a name that should be familiar to Union Corruption Update readers. The now-convicted Craighead, an Austin chiropractor and owner of a chain of Texas physical rehabilitation clinics known as Union Treatment Center (UTC), during 2008-15 falsely obtained nearly $18 million in worker’s compensation benefits on behalf of state, federal and postal employees. Many, if not all, were covered by union benefit plans. He solicited bribes from a variety of health care providers in exchange for steering patients their way. With the help of wife, Christine, who served as UTC chief operating officer, Garry Craighead also concocted or inflated medical bills for excessive reimbursements from the Labor Department. The indictment read: “Defendants unlawfully enhanced their revenue by engaging in overbilling and kickback schemes. As a result of these schemes, the defendants were among the most prolific billers in the FECA (Federal Employees Compensation Act).” Garry Craighead pleaded guilty in December 2015, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison, plus three years of supervised release. He also had to pay full restitution. A number of pharmacists also pleaded guilty. Union Treatment Center in June 2017 settled whistleblower claims for $3 million.
This brings us to Craighead’s former business associate, Tshombe Anderson. Anderson, now 55, is a lawyer with an ethically challenged background. Admitted to the Texas bar in 1999, his license to practice is currently under suspension. That’s nothing new. His license had been suspended four previous times, and in 2007 he had been publicly reprimanded. But those events proved to be warmups to the main event. During February 2010-July 2011, he represented Union Treatment Center. His tenure would be brief for a reason. According to federal prosecutors, Anderson, along with his wife, sister, sister-in-law and niece, used UTC as a conduit for bilking the Labor Department’s FECA program until Christine Craighead fired him. Anderson’s attorney claimed the Craigheads were trying to cover their tracks, but Mrs. Craighead, currently awaiting trial, insists she was simply a whistleblower trying to bring a bad situation to light.
Either way, Tshombe Anderson was a man with a license to steal even while making very little use of his license to practice law. As far as theft went, Anderson arranged for his niece, Lydia Taylor, to obtain an internship with the U.S. Department of Labor. Taylor in fact was a “mole” within the department, snooping through files of workmen’s compensation claims under the cover of learning about agency programs. She extracted more than 250 claim numbers on the DOL computer system and share the information with co-conspirators for filing claims from July 2011 to September 2015. Meanwhile, Anderson, his wife Brenda Anderson, and his sister Lydia Bankhead had launched a medical equipment company, Best First Administration (BFA), during their association with the Craigheads to handle patient referrals. Armed with Union Treatment Center claims data, they could bill the DOL for excessive or nonexistent services.
That wasn’t the only family business. In April 2013, Tshombe Anderson and his sister created a company called Union Medical Supplies and Equipment. Four months later, Anderson opened Skycare Medical Supplies and Equipment. These two firms were created for the purpose of submitting exaggerated or fake worker’s compensation claims. Each entity used information that BFA had received from UTC and then billed claimants for duplicate or unnecessary medical equipment services. Anderson, noted prosecutors, billed the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) for items not associated with claimant injuries. Indeed, many claimants had refused or rejected offers of use of equipment for which they were billed. Lydia Taylor, the OWCP mole, doubled as a lookout for her uncle’s billing companies, alerting family members to possible suspicions by her supervisors. Anderson’s sister, Lydia Bankhead, meanwhile, had a side project going in which she used stolen funds to buy construction equipment from a seller in Maryland and then ship it to a family business in Zimbabwe.
The house of cards began to unravel in June 2015 when federal prosecutors, in the wake of the above-cited whistleblower civil suit, charged the Craigheads with concocting or inflating medical bills for Labor Department reimbursements. That opened the books on the couple’s business relationship with Tshombe Anderson, which in turn uncovered a similar and even bigger scam. A federal grand jury returned indictments against Tshombe Anderson, wife Brenda Anderson, sister Lydia Bankhead and niece Lydia Taylor. He pleaded guilty on August 3, 2017. Shortly thereafter, the court issued an asset forfeiture order against him. Federal agents seized $375,000 in cash, a 2015 Mercedes, and his share of $8,383,075 worth of financial assets scattered about 25 separate accounts.
The three females in the case, facing a September trial, decided to cop a plea. Brenda Anderson pleaded guilty to making a false statement by the year’s end; Lydia Taylor plead guilty this March to billing fraud; and Lydia Bankhead pleaded guilty in April to aiding and abetting. They, too, had assets seized, including $295,000 in cash from the residence of Lydia Bankhead, plus several late-model luxury motor vehicles. Things could have been worse. A fourth defendant, Janet Anderson, Tshombe Anderson’s sister-in-law, had been charged, but prosecutors dropped their case. Tshombe Anderson, shamelessly enough, also had attempted to recruit his elderly mother into the scheme, but prosecutors declined to charge her. The case affirms a common tendency in organized crime: The family that stays together, steals together.
Federal officials following Tshmobe Anderson’s sentencing expressed satisfaction that he is headed for prison. “The sentence imposed today reaffirms the long-standing message that fraud committed against federal benefit programs is a serious crime and will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General Special Agent-in-Charge Christopher Cave. And Steven Grell, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Dallas Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Labor, put it this way: “Tshombe Anderson and others conspired to defraud the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs of more than $26 million. Anderson stole patient information from over 200 injured federal workers and then used the information to fraudulently bill OWCP, enriching himself and others with taxpayer dollars intended for the treatment of injured federal workers.” Perhaps trustees and managers of the affected union benefit plans will exercise greater due diligence in selecting business partners.