FORMER RITCHIE CON ARTIST BILKED $14 MILLION - Sentenced To Seven Years, Relatives Excused In Plea Bargain

(03/29/2003)

A former Ritchie County businessman who helped lead an organization that bilked $14 million from government health care programs was sentenced to seven years in prison this week in Florida. Barry D. Haught, 49, told the judge that he had made mistakes, and asked for probation and a suspended sentence.

A U. S. District Court judge told Haught he wouldn't even consider probation. "You call them mistakes. I call them fraud, extensive fraud," Judge Whittemore said.

Haught, originally from the Smithville area's Haught oil and gas family, had been involved in other schemes, including a pornographic ring in Polk, Florida. Both Tampa and St. Petersburg newspapers said Haught has a long history of "con-artistry."

Haught agreed last year to plead guilty to two federal counts that included conspiracy to commit Medicare and Medicaid fraud. He also agreed to pay millions of dollars in restitution and forfeit millions in assets, including property and money from bank accounts and brokerage houses, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

The judge said most of the money is likely gone and cannot be retrieved.

Haught helped organize the scam in the mid-1990s. Salesmen would sweep through poor neighborhoods in Florida and in other states asking residents if they wanted equipment such as hospital beds or pressurized mattresses, even if they didn't have a need for the equipment. The companies would then submit paperwork to the government that included false diagnoses to make the sales. Sometimes they forged doctors' signatures, and even paid kickbacks to doctors to sign the fraudulent paperwork.

Court records said he laundered about $5 million in off-shore bank accounts.

Even when told by a federal judge in 1998 to stop the illegal activities, Haught and others persisted in submitting $400,000 more in fraudulent claims. "They just wouldn't quit, even when caught," said the prosecutor.

At the hearing, Haught apologized to his family, the community, the judge and God. He started crying as he told the judge that he wanted to see his 3-month-old grandson take his first steps. "Please allow me the opportunity to be a benefit to society," he said. "Not a burden."

Judge Whittemore responded by saying the evidence showed a "callous indifference to the laws of our land."

Several other defendants in the scams have pleaded guilty, and a few have received prison sentences or probation. Several others have yet to be sentenced.

The 55-count indictment outlined a plan to launder money, and accused the defendants of selling medical equipment fraudulently.

Records indicated he was accused of using family members in Florida and West Virginia in laundering money. As part of the plea bargain arrangement, the court agreed not to charge Haught's relatives, which included his siblings, parents, children and in-laws, some reportedly residing in Ritchie County.


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