- Greg and Tara Garner are the founders of the Nashville-based international nonprofit Global Outreach Developments.
- The couple were indicted last year on charges of theft and fraud at TennCare.
- New evidence shows that prosecutors dropped the case against them this summer.
Prosecutors have discovered issues in the Medicaid fraud case against Gregg and Tara Garner, the husband and wife behind Global Outreach Developments in Nashville, new details from the now-closed case presentation.
The Garners were accused in March of 2021 of deceiving the state’s Medicaid program by failing to report work income that would have prevented family members from receiving health insurance benefits.
New evidence suggests that the family behind the religious nonprofit was mistakenly registered with TennCare after a phone call between a Medicaid representative and a family aide. During the call, the assistant identified herself as Tara Garner.
“It has been clear to us that the Garner family has not actively placed their children in TennCare,” Assistant Attorney General Chadwick Jackson said this summer in conversations with Tennessee. “It was this guy trying to figure out the health insurance status who did it by accident.”
Jackson said Jackson did not name the aide, who is unlikely to face charges.
“This person came in for an interview, and we couldn’t find criminal intent,” he said.
Medicaid paid more than $18,000 for family health care services, according to a press release distributed after the initial investigation. Children received program benefits between November 2015 and the end of 2017.
Further investigation revealed that the family aide was tasked with sorting out Garner’s children’s health insurance and had contacted TennCare with the intent of receiving a denial letter that could be used to process private insurance.
However, a TennCare representative incorrectly said children are eligible. Investigators discovered that the assistant thought the actor was right, she registered them with TennCare.
Repeated efforts to reach Garner’s attorney, Bill Ramsey, were unsuccessful. In a previous phone interview with The Tennessean, Ramsey said prosecutors agreed to drop the charges when the family’s evidence was presented.
“These accusations ended up being poorly substantiated,” Ramsey said August 16.
“The attorney general’s office is very ethical. They looked at the evidence we had and said, ‘You’re right’, and they did the right thing and dropped the charges.”
Lawsuit: TennCare’s verification system ‘full of errors’
The TennCare assessment form is complex and a person’s eligibility can change from year to year as children age or family finances change. In recent years, critics have pointed to the agency’s shortcomings and say it leaves some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable groups without needed health care coverage. The agency has announced efforts to greatly modernize the paper review process, and many say the changes cannot come soon enough.
A 2020 lawsuit against TennCare alleges that the “defective process” by which the agency checks eligibility is “rife with errors” that cause people to incorrectly lose coverage. In August, a federal judge refused to reinstate coverage for Tennessee residents who lost coverage, but it cleared the way for others to join the lawsuit if they lose coverage later this year if the public health emergency classification for COVID-19 expires.
Garner’s case was initially investigated and published by the Tennessee Office of the Inspector General. The Office of the Inspector General denied Tennessee’s request for files related to the investigation because they are excluded from the state’s public records laws.
The audio recordings decided the fate of the case
Jackson said the crux of the case was an audio recording of the conversation that was initially believed to be between Tara Garner and a TennCare representative. It was later discovered that the voice on the phone was Garners’ assistant.
The state in January 2021 submitted the case to a grand jury in Davidson County, which resulted in a sealed indictment against the couple.
“This is a very strange chain of events that happened, and we didn’t find out about all of that until after (Assistant Attorney) General (Mindy) Vinkur and we got the case and we dug into it and we realized there was some,” Jackson said.
“It turns out it wasn’t the Garners in those audio recordings.”
previously:TennCare sues kids who lost Medicaid
more:TennCare Fraud charges dropped against wife of Global Outreach Developments founder
It is not clear if an OIG investigator spoke with Garners prior to handing the case over to the OAG. Lola Potter, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General, said she could not answer questions about specific investigations but said, in general, that advice about potential fraud “is examined to see if there is information that clearly confirms or negates the allegation,” including conducting Interviews with the people at the center of those allegations.
“If our information determines that the allegations are credible enough to warrant continuing the investigation, we move forward to gather more information,” Potter added. “Once all pathways of information have been exhausted, a decision is made to submit the information to the district attorney for grand jury review.”
Potter said the investigation process could take several months, and the average case lifespan is more than 10 months. More than 3,000 people have been criminally charged with fraud in TennCare since the IGO began investigations in 2005.
The senders send the check, and the case is dismissed
The couple were initially accused of receiving unreported income from Hopewell Family Care, the Californiaarmia food truck and Music City Handyman — all Garners-related businesses.
Initial investigators said the combined income would have made the family ineligible for the state-subsidized health care program.
In fact, the family had private insurance at the time, Jackson confirmed, and providers were billing them.
For most eligibility categories, anyone can enroll in private insurance and TennCare, said Amy Lawrence, a spokeswoman for TennCare.
“In those cases, private insurance pays first, and TennCare pays last,” Lawrence said. “Under federal law, Medicaid is a payer of last resort.”
After the criminal case collapsed, prosecutors and the Office of the Inspector General agreed that reimbursement of $18,112.06 would be a satisfactory outcome.
Records obtained from the Office of the Inspector General show that on July 15, Greg Garner collected a check from the cashier. The check was passed to the attorney general’s office and sent to the TennCare office on July 21.
One week later, the cases were dismissed.
Contact Tennessee State Reporter Kirsten Fiscus at 615-259-8229 or KFiscus@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @KDFiscus. Contact reporter Maria Timms at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8344 and on Twitter Tweet embed.