Trial over alleged kickbacks looms for Shoemaker

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Hospital consultant Ray Shoemaker could not have been totally surprised by news of his March 16 indictment.
Shoemaker, who lives in Lee County, has known since at least 2007 that investigators were sniffing around federal Medicaid payments to at least three north Mississippi hospitals he administered.
In a November 2008 sworn affidavit associated with a lawsuit brought against the state and its Division of Medicaid by Shoemaker and his company, Rural Healthcare Developers Inc., and the Humphreys County hospital he owned, the state’s Medicaid deputy director pointed at Shoemaker and said his operations racked up millions for improperly billed services.
“In other words, Ray Shoemaker has undertaken a course of conduct involving these improper billing schemes, over several years, on behalf of at least three hospitals,” testified Medicaid’s Janet Mann, “and after having been warned not to do so, to obtain close to $30 million in improper payments from DOM.”
Today, Raymond Lamont Shoemaker is accused of 10 federal counts associated with an alleged nursing services kickback and bribery scheme at Tri-Lakes. He also is accused of embezzling from the Belzoni hospital.
On March 22, he pleaded not guilty before Magistrate S. Allen Alexander in Oxford.
He’s hired Steven Farese of Ashland, one of the South’s better-known defense attorneys.
While the outcome of his case is far from predictable, Shoemaker apparently goes about his daily business. Weeks ago, he asked about flexibility in travel since he must leave the Northern District of Mississippi for his work.
And while Daily Journal calls answered by his staff failed to yield even an acknowledgment of their location, Shoemaker’s business keeps a downtown Main Street profile with signage outside a revitalized bank building.
***
In September 2009, Attorney General Jim Hood and state Medicaid Director Bob Robinson got into a dust-up after Robinson accused Hood of refusing to prosecute an alleged $24 million fraud. Robinson was talking about Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville, where Shoemaker was chief executive.
Through it all, the now 38-year-old Shoemaker was making his mark across the rural health care landscape and impressing industry reporters.
He was the keynote speaker at conferences about rural health care.
About the same time, he released a book, “Cheerleader – Leadership in the Business of Life,” with help from Colorado ghost writer Mark Graham. The book was self-published by Rural Healthcare Developers of Plantersville and sold off its website for $15.95.
Last week, amazon.com was selling it for $12.44 a copy and said to hurry, that it had only six copies in stock.
Graham declined to speak about Shoemaker.
In advertising the book on various websites, a laudatory quote is attributed to Ronald L. Johnson, described as senior vice president of referee operations for the National Basketball Association:
“Ray Shoemaker has done an incredible job of capturing the essence of leadership – giving people a sense of direction and then motivating them, through cheerleading, to achieve a common purpose.”
Johnson could not be contacted for comment.
Any Internet searcher can find Shoemaker’s own public relations efforts, such as business websites, which herald his insights and successful endeavors.
Modern Healthcare magazine proclaimed him one of its “Up and Comers” among under-40 health care managers in 2006.
Memphis Business Journal declared him “Turnaround King” that same year.
Despite the federal indictment, Shoemaker continues to work through RHD with troubled hospitals across the South.
His resume touts his military experience and multiple college degrees.
***
Friends and acquaintances seem to be the most surprised by the indictment.
People close to Shoemaker insist he is a terrific guy.
The ones contacted recently by the Daily Journal declined to have their names used.
“I’ve been very much impressed with Ray as a gentleman and a man of vision,” said a middle-aged man who attends church with the Shoemakers.
“I don’t know much about his business, but he seems to be doing fine.”
Another, who worked on a project with Shoemaker, said, “I thought he was a great guy.”
Some leaders in the black community saw him as a rising star for next-generation leaders.
He’s co-chairman of White Hill Missionary Baptist Church’s capital campaign and reportedly pledged $30,000 to it over three years.
Shoemaker’s wife, Nanette, grew up in Plantersville and is known to friends as Shanae. The couple have been active in community work like Junior Auxiliary.
He hails from Walnut Grove in Leake County but reportedly spent some of his early childhood in Chicago.
Nanette Shoemaker holds the Smoothie King franchise on North Gloster Street.
They live comfortably with their two children west of Tupelo near the Pontotoc County line.
A look at Mississippi business records shows Shoemaker’s imprint on numerous ventures with focus on health.
He established Rural Healthcare Developers in December 2006, and its main offices are listed at 2533 Main St., Plantersville.
He and wife are the sole officers in Mississippi Business Support Services, listed at 3982 N. Gloster St., Tupelo.
Near RHD’s Plantersville address sits Riverbirch Residence LLC, an assisted living center owned by Robert Lemmons and operated by him and his wife, Susan.
Shoemaker’s federal indictment claims he improperly paid $457,000 to Riverbirch, through Humphreys County Hospital which he owned.
The indictment also claims he paid Riverbirch to remodel a mobile home trailer to be used for a profit-making business with Choctaw County Medical Center in Ackerman.
The Lemmonses could not be reached for comment.
Shoemaker and co-defendant Lee Garner of Batesville presumably are preparing for a May 9 trial start.
But recent court filings describe evidence in the case as “voluminous.” And Shoemaker recently added two Jackson attorneys to his defense team with accounting, nursing home and insurance litigation experience.
It’s not unusual for new attorneys to ask for more time to get better acquainted with a case.
And so, it’s unclear whether the looming trial date is realistic, although as of Friday no signs of any changes were public.
Still, there’s an obvious problem: One of Garner’s attorneys, Christi R. McCoy, is due in Greenville for a May 9 trial representing former Smithville football coach Dwight Bowling.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.