A federal sentencing hearing for Daniel Owens, the director of the Life Springs Dream Center who pleaded guilty to Medicare fraud charges in 2021, was closed on Monday, meaning the details of the proceeding are not available to the public.
Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia, where the hearing was scheduled Monday, appear to have moved that the hearing be closed, a request that was granted by Judge Mark A. Kearney.
“The within motion is a document which, if made public would jeopardize the government’s interest in protecting a cooperating witness and may jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation,” the motion reads. “Although the public has a common law right of access to judicial proceedings and papers, matters relating to protecting cooperating witnesses and not jeopardizing an ongoing criminal investigation are traditionally conducted ex parte and in camera, with deference to the government’s determination that investigative matters should be sealed.”
Owens was initially charged in September 2021 with “conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks” in the United States District Court’s eastern Pennsylvania district. A lengthy charging document outlines a detailed scheme to recruit people to undergo unnecessary cancer screening tests. Once the screens had taken place, Owens and other “individuals” are alleged to have received kickbacks from a provider in Florida that performed the tests and billed them to Medicare. Four other defendants are referred to in the charging document as Individuals 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each is identified as living outside North Carolina.
A court order also dated September 2021 indicates the records against Individuals 1, 2, 3 and 4 were impounded, or sealed, to ensure “the confidentiality of an ongoing criminal investigation and the safety of cooperating witnesses.”
Owens is alleged in the charging document to have netted as much as “$10,961 in kickbacks and bribes” between March and April 2020. He pleaded guilty in November 2021.
“Owens, Individual 3, and Individual 4 were part of a network of recruiters throughout the United States, managed by Individual 2, who targeted Medicare beneficiaries with marketing campaigns to induce them to submit to (cancer screening tests) regardless of medical necessity” the charging document reads. The document also notes that Owens is alleged to have created “sham invoices” which “corresponded with the per-swab kickback amount.”
The maximum penalty for violating the federal anti-kickback statute is either 10 years in prison, a $100,000 fine, or both.
Owens’ legal troubles came to light after the Life Springs Action Team, a subsidiary of Life Springs Church which proposes to build and operate the Dream Center, received a controversial $500,000 grant from the Lee County Board of Commissioners in November. The vote has since come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons – first, its speed (the grant was approved the night it was introduced, even after County Manager Dr. John Crumpton recommended further study), and later because it was determined that LSAT did not have necessary IRS approval as a nonprofit entity. That means the county is unable to enter into a contract on the Dream Center proposal until nonprofit status is approved.
The grant allocation issue came before the Board of Commissioners again on in mid January, after Democratic Commissioner Mark Lovick requested a discussion on the process by which the grant was awarded and how an entity without nonprofit status approved could be given any funding at all. The following day, LSAT announced in a Facebook video featuring Owens and Dale Sauls, also a pastor at Life Springs that the organization was withdrawing its proposal but would reapply when the nonprofit status is granted.