Last week a federal jury in Charlotte found Donald Booker guilty in an elaborate scheme to defraud Medicaid of $11 million. The caper involved a drug-testing facility, a substance-abuse treatment center and a low-income housing provider, all acting in concert to swindle the federal government on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in the community.
And they might still be getting away with it if it were not for Triad City Beat.
We learned about Booker’s Greensboro organization, United Youth Care Services, back in 2019, when Senior Editor Jordan Green filed the first of a series of articles on Booker, his cronies and their caper.
The scam was brilliant, if somewhat crass.
Booker and his agents recruited people experiencing homelessness, telling them that if they could fail a drug test, they could get free housing. If they didn’t do drugs, UYCS could get them some, or provide dirty urine for the test. But the housing was substandard — clients described filth, broken appliances, power and water outages, and bugs in the Greensboro facilities. They were forced to attend substance-abuse classes even if they did not use. And the programs were entirely unprofessional.
As TCB reported in June 2020: “The result was a drug-treatment program where clients were perversely incentivized to use drugs, even as staff degraded them for doing so. Clients ostensibly there to get clean were placed in rundown hotels and apartments plagued with rampant drug use, and they were often times subjected to the arbitrary authority of site managers and security guards who were themselves using and selling drugs, according to interviews Triad City Beat conducted with more than a dozen former clients.”
“It’s really encouraged to do drugs,” one former client told us. “If you test clean, it’s frowned upon.”
Before our stories came out, Booker’s operation had been the subject of numerous complaints and several investigations, none of which found any wrongdoing. UYCS’ license to operate was revoked by the state in August 2019, after our story ran; an appeal allowed them to do business in Greensboro until September 2020. They had similar operations going on around the state, and in Kentucky.
Booker was convicted last week, more than three years later. There will be no relief for the thousands of clients he exploited, no remedy for the millions he stole. More on that in the coming weeks.
But it’s fairly illustrative of the power of local journalism to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.
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