GILA NATIONAL FOREST — In the shadow of a cliff, 15-year-old Nathan spools an arc of fishing line into the Gila River and waits. Tall and watchful, the teen has been quiet for most of the day during this outing, organized by Families and Youth Incorporated (FYI), a Las Cruces nonprofit that works with troubled kids.
A little while ago, at a swimming hole downstream, Nathan stood on the bank skipping stones while the other kids whooped and splashed and jumped from depressions in the cliff face into the cool water. He doesn’t know how to swim. Now he stands in the middle of the river, wet sneakers forgotten, watching the water in front of him for any sign of movement. Finally, a tug: He reels a fist-sized fish into the bright August light.
Even in his final days of battling leukemia in early 2016, Jose Frietze was fighting for the youth services agency he founded in 1977. The state Human Services Department had accused the organization — Las Cruces-based Families and Youth Inc. — of potential Medicaid fraud and overbilling by $856,745 in 2013. A stop payment of $1.5 million in Medicaid funding for services already provided crimped FYI’s cash flow, leading to layoffs. And because of the accusations, FYI was forced to hand off part of its business to an Arizona company brought in by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Frietze’s daughters Victoria and Marisa remember how tough the allegations were on Frietze and their family.
There’s no getting around it. Four years after Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration charged 15 behavioral health organizations with potentially defrauding the state’s Medicaid program, its case has experienced a slow-motion unraveling. No Medicaid fraud was ever found. And those eye-popping estimates that added up to $36 million the organizations had overbilled Medicaid? In the summer of 2017, the Human Services Department (HSD) is seeking drastically lower reimbursements for overbilling the public health insurance program for low-income residents, a review of public records and state court documents has found.