Three people from Bristol, Va. sentenced for Medicaid fraud, child endangerment


Three people learned their fates in federal court, in Abingdon on Thursday. This, after three children were found living in filth, at a home in Bristol, Virginia.

Deborah Branch, along with the help of Bryan and Melissa Harr, committed fraud against state and federal Medicaid programs, pocketing more than $300,000 total.

Meanwhile, they neglected the Harr's children, one of whom was disabled. Bryan and Melissa Harr were each sentenced to four years in federal prison. That decision came down hours after the judge told Branch, she will serve six years behind bars.

Prosecutors revealed pictures, showing us how three children lived in the Bristol, Virginia home.

"The children were denied even the most basic of their human needs," acting U.S. attorney Rick Mountcastle said.

One of the children has cerebral palsy and does not speak.

"The other two younger children were kept in deplorable living conditions, they were locked in rooms, living in their own excrement, and nobody did anything about it," Mountcastle said.

Meanwhile, their supposed caretaker, Deborah Branch, pretended to care for them to claim money from Medicaid. And she wasn't working alone.

"Based on the evidence, she's the one who came up with idea, convinced the Harrs to go along with it," Mountcastle said.

For nearly six years, the parents of the children signed false time sheets for Branch. In return, she paid the couple $400 a month. Branch pocketed more than $207,000 for herself.

"This is pretty egregious because it involves patient harm and fraud," Director of Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Randy Clouse said.

So prosecutors and investigators are pleased with the sentences.

'These children, who didn't have voices until today, have a lot of people speaking up for them," lead investigator Jeff Overbeck said. Overbeck is a special agent with the health and human services.

But the team agreed the sentences don't change the past for the kids.

"I don't think any sentence would bring justice truly for the children who suffered in these horrible conditions," Overbeck said. "But this is a very good start."

"Considering the situation they were in previously, they're in good situations now," assistant attorney general Janine Myatt said. "And to the best that they can given what they're been through, they're thriving."

Bryan and Melissa Harr are also serving their state sentences for felony child endangerment. That means he will serve a total of eight years in prison. She will serve seven.

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