Autism Parents Charged With $400K Fraud: What Were They (Not) Thinking?
A San Francisco couple were arrested on Wednesday on felony charges that they misappropriated some $400,000 from the San Francisco School District and from health insurance companies, through fraudulent bills for their autistic son’s services. As reported in the August 26th San Francisco Chronicle, Jonathan S. Dickstein and Barclay J. Lynn will be arraigned in court next Tuesday on 30 counts of fraud, theft and conspiracy. They were briefly jailed on Wednesday and released on $100,000 bail each. Dickstein—a graduate of Standford University and Harvard Law School—is a former partner at an internationally recognized San Francisco law firm, Morrison & Foerster, which specializes in intellectual property issues and the law surrounding life sciences; he has since started his own practice. Lynn is a marketing consultant.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts are required to provide an appropriate, and free, education for a child with disabilities. If the parents believe that the school is not able to provide such an ‘appropriate’ education through its own program and teachers, and if they are able to prove this to the school district (in more than a few cases, this can require legal action), a school district can be obligated to fund therapy and other educational services provided by outside, private agencies.
I know more than a few families who have indeed done just this to provide for their autistic children’s education. But I don’t know of anyone who did what Dickstein and Lynn did: In 2006, Lynn created Puzzle Pieces, her own agency to provide autism services. According to prosecutors, this was ‘actually a dummy company that was not licensed to develop autism education.’ And yet, from 2006 to 2008, Dickstein and Lynn used Puzzle Pieces as the agency providing services for their autistic son. They ‘double-dipped’ by charging both the San Francisco School District (to the tune of $240,000) and their insurance companies (for a total of some $140,000) ‘at allegedly inflated rates …… for the same hours of treatment.’ The alleged fraud went unnoticed until Dickstein’s and Lynn’s son was assigned a new case manager who noted that Puzzle Pieces was charging twice what an agency would bill for the same services. Too, a doctor, Robert Schenk, ‘who supposedly provided help had no specialty in autism’ was rather a specialist in adult depression.
I read about this story on Thursday and it’s been bothering me ever since. Garrett Lew, Dickstein’s attorney, says that the ‘couple got overwhelmed as they worked with the many intricacies involved in securing care for their son.’
I certainly understand feeling that way in trying to find good therapists and programs for my son, and in paying for them. At one point we rented an apartment in another town so Charlie could attend a public autism school program there, all while we were still paying for our house in a different town. Charlie has a lot of needs and we always want to provide him with the best, to help him achieve as much as he can, to be healthy and happy. We’ve had to tighten our belts, so to speak, and scrimp and I know we’re not at all alone among families with kids like Charlie who do the same. (Certainly, we were fortunate that we were able to juggle rent + mortgage for a time, though it was not at all easy.)
But why go to such duplicitous measures, getting funds from a school district and insurance companies and doing who knows what with them? Certainly the $240,000 Dickstein and Lynn obtained from the San Francisco School District could have been used for other students’ education. As noted on Law.com, ‘spreadsheets taken from the couple’s house indicate that the scheme enabled Dickstein and Lynn to take home an extra $100,000 a year on top of Dickstein’s [Morrison & Foerster] earnings, according to prosecutors.’
And sadly, among the losers in Dickstein’s and Lynn’s subterfuge is no one less than their own child.
Photo by Neubie.