SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A former Scripps Health employee has been charged with stealing the identity of dying patients in order to collect pandemic-related benefits.
Investigators were tipped off to the scheme following a traffic stop, which led to the search of a home and discovery of the alleged scheme.
According to the court documents, there were four people involved, including a former Scripps Health employee.
The government says Matthew Lombardo was a patient financial service representative. They've charged him with a handful of crimes, including aggravated identity theft.
Court documents alleged Lombardo would access confidential patient health care information through his employer's information network and distribute this information to three others.
The documents said Lombardo and Konrad Piekos exchanged dozens of text messages discussing patient information.
In one text message in August of last year, Lombardo texted Piekos the true name, date of birth, social security number, and address of a patient and wrote, "This guy died a few hours ago. How many names do we need? I'll check for more just got here," according to the documents.
Court records add that same day, Lombardo texted information for another patient, saying, "Maybe he's too old. Likely on way out soon."
"I think a case like this, in the times we are living in, they are preying on the weakest," criminal defense attorney David P. Shapiro said.
Shapiro said medical fraud crimes are committed with the hope that the victims do not notice the crimes.
"If a loved one passes away, whether suddenly or expected, the last thing that they are going to be thinking about in the days and weeks that follow is let's protect my uncle, my brother, my father's identity to make sure no one steals their identity. They are thinking about a burial. They are thinking about grieving," Shapiro explained.
Investigators said the scheme, which targeted a homeless man, a heart attack victim, and several others, went on for months. At least two of the pandemic unemployment assistance claims Piekos made were rejected. It is unknown if others were successfully filed.
The government said that went on until the state changed the way it handled claims. ABC 10News reached out to the U.S. Attorney's Office, but they haven't commented on this case.
In a statement to ABC 10News, a spokesperson for Scripps Health wrote:
"Mr. Lombardo was a patient services specialist employed by Scripps Health on an as-needed basis from May 13, 2019, to April 14, 2021. He was terminated on April 14, 2021, for cause.
Scripps takes its responsibility for protecting patient privacy very seriously and is cooperating with the government investigation."
ABC 10News also reached out to Lombardo's attorney, but have not heard back. Peikos' attorney, Vik Monder, told ABC 10News he can't comment on the investigation. ABC 10News was given no comment or hasn't heard back from the other defendants accused in the case.
According to the Department of Justice, the defendants face up to a penalty of 32-34 years in prison if convicted.