(NEW YORK) — Employees and the owner of an upstate New York midwife practice are facing federal charges due to allegedly running a fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
Licensed midwife Kelly McDermott, 61, who owns Sage-Femme Midwifery, located in Albany, as well employee Kathleen Breault, 65, another midwife, have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States.
According to a grand jury indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York, McDermott and Breault enrolled Sage-Femme as an authorized COVID-19 vaccine administration site with the state Department of Health.
On the outside, Sage Femme looked like one of “the busiest vaccination sites in New York State, outpacing large, state-run vaccination sites,” federal officials wrote in a case summary.
However, between June 2021 and March 2022, Sage Femme created more than 2,600 false entries in the state’s vaccination database and distributed fake COVID-19 vaccination cards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to people who were not vaccinated, including individuals living in Brooklyn and Staten Island, according to court documents.
Additionally, some of the people who allegedly received vaccination cards were minors who had not yet been made eligible by the state officials to be vaccinated and those who aren’t citizens of the U.S. and and lacked the immigration documents necessary to enter the country, according to prosecutors.
These fake vaccinations were then entered into the New York State Information System, a vaccination database run by the NYDOH, according to court documents.
McDermott, Breault and unnamed conspirators allegedly destroyed vials of COVID-19 vaccines that they had received.
The defendants allegedly kept up the façade by holding “vaccination clinic days,” during which patients would be scheduled for COVID-19 vaccination appointments, but not actually receive the shot.
The alleged scheme allowed residents, such as those in New York City, to evade rules that had been set up that only allowed people who were vaccinated to dine indoor, visit entertainment venues and exercise in fitness and recreations centers.
Federal officials also said the conspiracy interfered with efforts made by the CDC and the U.S. Department Health and Human Services to document vaccination efforts.
“The defendants in these cases used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to engage in fraud, including faking vaccine cards and stealing vital funds designed to keep struggling businesses afloat,” United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement.
No attorneys were listed for McDermott or Breault. Sage-Femme Midwifery did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Meanwhile, another employee of Sage Femme, licensed practical nurse, Sherilyn Pellitteri, 41, of Somerset, Kentucky, previously pleaded guilty in connection with the same conspiracy.
Conspiracy to defraud the U.S. carries a penalty of a fine and/or up to five years in prison.
The charges are among a recent series of 18 cases brought against people across the U.S. who allegedly committed fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among them are two people in Florida charged with conspiracy to defraud due to an alleged plan to illegally purchase Medicare beneficiary ID numbers so they could bill Medicare for “over the counter COVID-19 test kits that were ineligible for reimbursement,” according to a case summary.
Two men in Utah were also charged with fraud after allegedly manufacturing and selling about 120,000 fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards online.
“Today’s announcement marks the largest-ever coordinated law enforcement action in the United States targeting health care fraud schemes that exploit the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division in a statement.
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