Arizona Medicaid scheme targeted Native Americans. Here's how victims can get help

By Michel Marizco
Published: Friday, May 19, 2023 - 3:07pm
Updated: Monday, May 22, 2023 - 10:40am

Navajo Nation Council
Navajo Nation Council
Navajo Nation Council members, Gallup Mayor Louis Bonaguidi and Gallup Police Chief Erin Toadlena-Pablo during the press conference at the Gallup City Council Chambers in Gallup, New Mexico, on May 17, 2023.

Arizona and Navajo Nation officials warn that potentially thousands of Native Americans were targeted in a massive health care benefits scheme that trafficked victims to Arizona, especially Phoenix — and authorities are trying to find the people who were targeted.

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said the scheme began with a criminal group that traveled to Arizona from Nevada. 

"From there it metastasized;I believe it became somewhat like a franchise industry," she said.

Scammers used Airbnbs in Phoenix, Prescott and in northern Arizona as fraudulent sober living homes and treatment centers targeting Native Americans from as far away as Gallup, New Mexico. 

"At one point, this fraud became so bad that these scammers were buying lists of people and names and dates of birth," said Mayes.

Once housed, victims were not allowed to leave, but some escaped. Scammers billed Arizona’s Medicaid program, known as AHCCCS. So far, investigators have found fraudulent billing for more than 7,000 names but they don’t yet know whether those involve actual people. Mayes estimated there’s between 5,000 and 8,000 real-life victims.

The Navajo Nation Police Department found 27 victims within 24 hours, officials said. They also announced the creation of Operation Rainbow Bridge, which is now active in Phoenix to help Navajo victims find legitimate services for treatment or to get help so they could go back home to the Navajo Nation. Victims need to call 2-1-1, option 7, to be connected with help.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley warned that families of victims are going it alone in their search.

"A lot of these families are using their own resources, gas money, lodging to come down to the Valley to go door to door to look for their relatives," she said.

Officials expect that scammers no longer receiving AHCCCS checks will start abandoning victims needing help. They expect the human toll of this scheme to grow once that begins to happen.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to an editing error, this headline has been changed to correct that the scheme affected Arizona's Medicaid program.

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