Feds: Fairfield woman posed as autism counselor at Bridgeport facility in $369K Medicaid scheme

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Jessica Stuart, 38, appeared before Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer in New Haven, Conn., federal court on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, and waived her right to be indicted. She pleaded guilty in connection with a Medicaid scheme.

Jessica Stuart, 38, appeared before Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer in New Haven, Conn., federal court on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, and waived her right to be indicted. She pleaded guilty in connection with a Medicaid scheme.

Ben Lambert / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW HAVEN — A Fairfield woman pleaded guilty in federal court this week to defrauding the Medicaid program out of hundreds of thousands of dollars while she was working at an autism services agency in Bridgeport, prosecutors said.

Jessica Stuart, 38, appeared Wednesday before Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer in New Haven and waived her right to be indicted.

She pleaded guilty to health care fraud, which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison; and false identification in connection with health care fraud, which carries a maximum term of 15 years.

Stuart was released pending sentencing, which the judge scheduled for Aug. 31.

The charges against stem from Stuart’s time at Helping Hands Academy in Bridgeport, which provides behavior analysis services to children with autism, prosecutors said. In September 2018, the academy enrolled as a participating provider in the state’s Medicaid program.

Medicaid requires agencies who offer services for individuals with autism to do so under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner or a board-certified behavior analyst, which is a graduate-level certification.

Stuart does not have a college degree, was not a BCBA or licensed medical practitioner and did not have any formal training in applied behavior analysis to work with individuals with autism, prosecutors said.

Between May 2019 and September 2020, Helping Hands Academy paid Stuart at least $143,000 and submitted numerous fraudulent claims for applied behavioral analysis services to Medicaid. Prosecutors said those services were ones Stuart was not qualified to provide.

Prosecutors said Stuart used the name of another individual without that person’s knowledge or authorization so she could impersonate a BCBA.

The loss to the Medicaid program by Stuart’s scheme was estimated to be $369,439.96.

The owner of Helping Hands Academy, Nicole Balkas, pleaded guilty to health care fraud on April 28. She also awaits sentencing.

Anyone who suspects health care fraud can report it by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS.