Lawsuit: State is at fault for deaths in Arizona’s sober living home scandal

By Camryn Sanchez
Published: Friday, April 12, 2024 - 3:39pm
Updated: Friday, April 12, 2024 - 5:47pm

A crowd listens to families and victims of sober living homes share their devastating stories at a town hall meeting organized by
Gabriel Pietrorazio/KJZZ
A crowd listens to families and victims of sober living homes share their devastating stories at a town hall meeting organized by 'Stolen People, Stolen Benefits,' a grassroots watchdog group on Tuesday, March 26.

A lawsuit filed by the relatives of two Native American men died while in the care of fraudulent sober living homes claims the state of Arizona is at fault for their deaths.

Carson Leslie and Fernando Largo died from overdoses under the care of the facilities that Arizona officials say were used by bad actors to bill Arizona’s Medicaid system an estimated $2.8 billion.

Many of those facilities targeted Native American patients registered under the American Indian Health Plan. They then billed the state for thousands of dollars for rehabilitation services they didn’t actually provide.

In March, relatives of Leslie and Largo filed lawsuits in Maricopa County Superior Court against the state of Arizona and two state agencies, the Department of Health Services and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Relatives argue the state is at fault for not taking action to prevent the deaths even though state officials were informed of the schemes back in 2022. 

One filing accuses the state of “recklessness, ineptitude, gross negligence and indifference.”

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has partnered with AHCCCS and DHS to prosecute so-called bad actors, and to implement new policies in the agencies to prevent fraud. But that “crackdown” only started recently, and the fraud has been ongoing since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In legal filings, the relatives accuse AHCCCS of not cooperating with the families of the deceased. 

“Defendant AHCCCS has shamefully blocked attempts by other claimants to obtain even basic billing records regarding deceased family members who have died due to the sober living crisis,” one filing states. 

Both suits are brought under the Arizona Wrongful Death Act.

According to the complaint, Largo died in a motel registered to a facility called “Opportunity Changes,” which was licensed with DHS and registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

In Leslie’s case, relatives say he was picked up by members of the Victory Group Home in Flagstaff and died in transit to the Valley. They claim that the people running the home dumped Leslie’s body in the street in Phoenix.

Victory Group Home was also licensed with DHS.

Largo’s parents and Leslie’s daughter and wife are plaintiffs, and they are seeking monetary damages.

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