Fats Thomas, remembered for 2013 UNC drama, sentenced to prison

Six years after he gained notoriety for jeopardizing the eligibility of local college basketball players, Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a Durham man and felon with a lengthy criminal record, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for Medicaid fraud, state attorney general Josh Stein announced on Friday.

Thomas’ sentencing came eight months after he pleaded guilty in September to two counts: one of making a false statement relating to health care and another of tax evasion. In addition to his prison sentence, the court ordered him to pay restitution of nearly $4 million to the N.C. Fund for Medical Assistance and $518,997 to the IRS, according a statement from Stein’s office.

Stein’s statement detailed how, from 2011 through 2015, Thomas helped the Durham County Mental Health and Behavioral Health Services (DCMHBHS) submit fraudulent claims to Medicaid. Thomas, according to the attorney general, worked as a manager for an oral surgeon and assisted another oral surgeon with submitting claims.

Through his work, Thomas gained access to patient names and Medicaid identification numbers. He shared that information with Catina Farrington, the owner of DCMHBHS, which then submitted Medicaid claims for services that it did not provide. Those claims amounted to nearly $4 million.

Farrington pleaded guilty in March to one count of tax evasion and one count of healthcare fraud conspiracy. The court sentenced her to five years in prison and ordered her to pay restitution.

The state’s investigation also discovered that between 2011 and 2015 Thomas transferred nearly $1.5 million from DCMHBHS accounts to his own. During those years he reported $2,000 in income from DCMHBHS. Authorities concluded he had an unpaid federal tax liability of nearly $520,000.

“These individuals misused private patient data to cheat the Medicaid program and taxpayers,” Stein said in a statement. “My office will continue to hold people responsible for healthcare fraud and abuse.”

The time period of Thomas’ Medicaid fraud overlapped with his role in an infamous college sports drama that unfolded in the summer of 2013. NCAA and UNC-Chapel Hill officials determined then that Thomas had provided two basketball players access to luxury rental cars, in violation of NCAA rules concerning impermissible benefits.

Thomas’ name first emerged in that case in June, 2013, when P.J. Hairston, at the time a prominent UNC basketball player, was arrested in Durham while driving a rented GMC Yukon that had been paid for by Thomas. That revelation led to another: that at the time he received a speeding ticket in May, 2013, Hairston was driving a rented Chevrolet Camaro paid for by Farrington, who lived with Thomas.

Slowly, Thomas’ relationships with local college basketball players became clearer. Leslie McDonald, who at the time was another UNC basketball player, told investigators that he came to know Thomas through a local party promoter. Thomas, in turn, provided McDonald and Hairston access to high-end rental cars from April 2013 through June of that year.

The rentals included a 2009 Porsche Cayenne and a 2013 Mercedes 350. Investigators determined that McDonald’s use of the cars amounted to more than $1,500 in impermissible benefits, and he served a nine-game suspension at the start of the 2013-14 season. Hairston was found to have used the cars three times as often as McDonald, and UNC declared Hairston permanently ineligible.

At the time, Roy Williams, the UNC coach, characterized Hairston’s dismissal from the team as “probably the most difficult and saddest thing I’ve ever gone through as a head coach.” Thomas’ Medicaid scheme, meanwhile, continued for two more years.

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