SNF owner embezzled Medicaid funds to pay for strippers, gambling, pet care

Sells is scheduled for sentencing in July.
Sells is scheduled for sentencing in July.

The owner of a shuttered nursing home in Missouri admitted in court on Wednesday that he took $667,000 in Medicaid funds meant for the facility and spent it on strippers, pet care, gambling and a country club membership.

The facility, Benchmark Healthcare in Festus, MO, lost its federal funding and closed after inspectors found the facility wasn't providing enough food to residents. Benchmark staff told surveyors food deliveries had stopped after a vendor wasn't paid; at the time of inspection, the facility's walk-in freezers reportedly held just two bags of french fries, six ice cream bars and eight small bowls of ice cream.

Sixty residents had to be relocated following the facility's closure in September.

Benchmark's owner, Johnnie Mac Sells, pleaded guilty this week to two counts of healthcare fraud, admitting that he took Medicaid funds for his personal use. Among the charges Sells wracked up on the company's debit card were $185,000 spent at gentlemen's clubs, $15,000 on pet care, $4,500 at casinos and $12,000 in country club fees between 2014 and 2015, prosecutors said.

Sells also used company funds to pay for $3,500 in bail bonds after he was charged with domestic abuse and sexual misconduct for an incident where he “slammed his girlfriend through a glass coffee table and exposed his genitals to her 12-year-old son,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Sells is slated to stand trial for that incident in June.

An attorney for Sells told the court Wednesday that his client had previously struggled with addiction but was now sober. Sells' sentencing is scheduled for July 25; he faces up to 37 months in prison and will be required to pay back the funds he embezzled.

Sells' family previously ran Legacy Health Systems, which in its prime cared for 2,000 residents in 27 facilities in Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, according to the Post-Dispatch. The company operated two other facilities at the time of Benchmark's closure, one of which was purchased by Sells' son and other families members.