Arthur Anyah says he pleaded guilty to wage theft to stay out of jail, but if he does not pay more than $200,000 in back wages and unemployment insurance fees by December he could end up behind bars anyway.
He pleaded guilty on July 14 to defrauding 67 workers out of $135,000 and creating false tax documents, as owner of Mical Home Health Care Agency Inc.
The agency, at 12 N. Division St. in Peekskill, provided basic personal care services such as bathing, dressing and preparing food to elderly, sick, infirm and disabled clients.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman depicts Anyah as a businessman who callously and criminally exploited his employees.
Despite his guilty plea, Anyah presents himself as a small businessman who wasn’t given a fair chance to compete and who got trapped in debt when insurers and government agencies delayed payments for his services.
For two and a half years, beginning in December 2012, according to Schneiderman, Anyah paid workers inconsistently.
As he fell behind, he persuaded employees to keep working on the promise that they would eventually be paid when his invoices were paid.
Many quit. Then Anyah hired new people, the attorney general says, and repeated the pattern.
Some workers went more than a year without receiving wages. In some cases, paychecks were issued but bounced for insufficient funds.
The shortfalls ranged from $311 to $16,770, according to an affidavit by state Department of Labor investigator Gerard Capdevielle.
The attorney general says Anyah also created false tax documents, such as W-2 forms, reported wages that were never paid and failed to pay the workers’ state unemployment insurance.
Anyah does not dispute that some employees were not paid promptly, but he said some employees exaggerated the amounts and he also went without pay at times.
“I am a victim of business gone wrong.”
He describes a nightmare that arose from pursuit of his American dream.
He said he was a Nigerian air force pilot, but he fled his country for England in 1970 during a civil war. He moved to the United States about 40 years ago.
He raised nine children and put all of them through college.
In 2003 he founded Nationwide Educational Development Corp., an after-school program that prepared high school students for college.
Anyah said he felt a need to start his own health care business. He had worked at various health care firms over the years, and he had a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
He identifies himself as “Dr.” on various business filings, but he is not licensed in New York. He said he studied psychology at Harlington University in Manchester, England and also took its correspondence course, but no university by that name is officially recognized by the national government.
Anyah founded Mical Home Health Care Agency in 2006 in the Bronx, naming it after a daughter.
Anyah struggled. He had to quickly deal with startup costs, get state approvals and line up clients.
He filed for bankruptcy that year. He owned a home in the Bronx and made $5,000 a month as a health care administrator, but his liabilities exceeded assets by nearly $100,000.
A year later, he filed for bankruptcy again. He had no income, assets of $6,600 and liabilities of $235,000.
Home health care services are reimbursed mostly by Medicaid payments administered by government agencies or by managed long-term care insurance plans.
Anyah found that most governments had already made sufficient arrangements with other agencies. He said he lost nearly $200,000 on one client because of a disagreement with the state over authorization for the work.
He got a break in 2012 when Westchester County officials told him that there was a demand for home health care workers in the northwest area. He opened an office in Peekskill.
Typically, government agencies would pay him 45 to 90 days after services were provided. But sometimes payments were delayed over questions and procedures. Insurance companies took even longer, he said.
He said Westchester County paid him this year for services provided in 2014.
“How can you pay your staff when the government is not paying you for the services provided?” he asked.
As cash flow worsened, he borrowed heavily, selling his accounts receivable, for example, and giving lenders the right to take payments directly from his bank account.
Now he figures he owes more than a million dollars for unpaid taxes and court judgments.
He said he kept employees informed about delayed reimbursements at weekly meetings.
As to the W-2 forms, he said a payroll company prepared and mailed the records.
“Of course, mistakes were made,” he said. “But they were not intentional. I never thought that when you owe somebody, that becomes criminal. I never meant to hurt anyone.”
Anyah is in a bind. He tried to get a job but no one would hire him because of the criminal case. He is 66, and Social Security is his only source of income. His children, he said, are unable to help because they don’t have money.
He thinks the attorney general is using him as an example to further his political career.
“The most basic right for a worker is to be paid for your work,” Schneiderman said in a press release. “It is unacceptable for workers who serve vulnerable patients to be stiffed on wages and them misled with false promises of payments.”
Anyah will be sentenced on Dec. 8 in Westchester County Supreme Court. Failure to pay restitution “may result in a sentence of up to one year in jail,” Schneiderman said in the press release.
“Going to jail doesn’t pay that money,” Anyah said.
“My life is now over. No money to stay alive and my good name destroyed,” he said.
“If they put me in jail, I will die. That is the bottom line.”