An acupuncturist was charged Thursday with cheating Medicaid out of nearly $1.7 million through various deceptive billing practices while running acupuncture clinics throughout the Twin Cities.

Xiaoyan Hu, 60, of Eden Prairie was charged in Hennepin County District Court with defrauding the medical assistance program for more than four years until mid-2020 while operating clinics in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina, Burnsville and briefly in Elk River.

Investigators allege in the 17-count felony criminal complaint that her Chinese Acupuncture and Herb Center (CAH) submitted nearly 42,000 fraudulent claims for clinic services and received $1,688,461.31 in Medicaid payments.

The complaint also charges Hu with collecting more than $62,000 from Medicaid for fraudulent interpreter services.

"Minnesotans who receive [Medicaid] have a right to expect that they'll receive all the care, dignity, and respect they're entitled to," said a statement by state Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office investigated Hu and her clinics for two years.

"Minnesotans trying to afford their lives have a right to expect that every one of their tax dollars will be spent properly and legally," Ellison added. "People who commit Medicaid fraud violate both of those rights."

Hu was charged by summons. Messages were left for Hu at the two CAH clinics that remain, in Edina and Burnsville, seeking her response to the allegations. Her first appearance in court has yet to be scheduled. Her attorney, William Mauzy, also was not immediately available to respond.

State Medical Board of Practice records show that Hu's license is active. She's been licensed to practice acupuncture in Minnesota since 1998.

Hu earned her bachelor's degree in 1983 from HuBei University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Wuhan, China, according to board records. A biography on her company website adds that she also has a doctorate in traditional Chinese medicine, with specialties in gynecology and internal medicine.

According to the investigation headed by the state's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which interviewed onetime clinic employees and clients:

From March 4, 2016, through June 25, 2020, Hu routinely directed CAH employees to bill for one hour of acupuncture services, even though its sessions lasted no longer than 30 to 45 minutes, with many ending after 15 minutes.

The former employees said that when they challenged Hu about this, she rebuffed them and said to continue documenting services as one hour. Some former employees said they quit over the billing practices.

Investigators also found that the clinics billed for months — and on one occasion years — after clients stopped receiving services at the clinics.

CAH also billed for acupuncture services provided in a client's home without the required prior authorization for a home visit, used acupuncture billing codes to bill for services that were not covered acupuncture services, and used the credentials of another acupuncturist to bill for services provided to clients with a particular insurance company after the company excluded CAH from its network.

Hu also regularly signed, and directed others to sign, verifications for language interpreter services that did not happen, the investigation found.