Owner, Executives And Physcians At Closed Sacred Heart Hospital Indicted In Alleged Medicare Referral Kickback Conspiracy
CHICAGO ― The owner and three other executives of the now-closed Sacred Heart Hospital and four physicians affiliated with the former west side facility were indicted on federal charges alleging that they collectively paid and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal kickbacks in exchange for the referral of hospital patients who were insured by Medicare and Medicaid. Sacred Heart allegedly paid physicians bribes and kickbacks to induce patient referrals and increase the patient census, which, in turn, increased hospital revenue.
Sacred Heart Hospital was a 119-bed acute care facility located at 3240 West Franklin Blvd., in Chicago. The hospital closed and filed for bankruptcy this summer after Medicare payments were suspended in the aftermath of criminal charges that were first filed in April. The indictment charges only conduct involved in the alleged kickback conspiracy while a broader investigation that was outlined in the earlier criminal complaint continues.
The eight defendants were charged in a 17-count indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury late yesterday and announced today by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Five of the eight defendants were charged and arrested on April 16 this year, while three new defendants were charged in the indictment for the first time. A fifth physician associated with Sacred Heart was indicted separately for illegally prescribing prescription medications. No new arrests occurred in connection with the indictments.
Mr. Fardon announced the charges with Lamont Pugh III, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Region of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Office of Inspector General, and Robert J. Shields, Jr., Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of investigation.
The five defendants charged previously in the conspiracy case are: EDWARD J. NOVAK, 58, of Park Ridge, Sacred Heart’s owner and chief executive officer; ROY M. PAYAWAL, 64, of Burr Ridge, executive vice president and chief financial officer; and Drs. PERCY CONRAD MAY, JR., 75, of Chicago, SUBIR MAITRA, 73, of Chicago, and SHANIN MOSHIRI, also known as “Shawni Moshiri,” 58, of Chicago. All five of these defendants remain free on various bonds after they were arrested in April.
The three new defendants are: Dr. RAJIV KANDALA, 41, of Chicago; ANTHONY J. PUORRO, 57, formerly of Chicago, who was Sacred Heart’s chief operating officer; and NOEMI VELGARA, 64, of Chicago, who was Sacred Heart’s vice president of geriatric services and was responsible for overseeing the Golden L.I.G.H.T. medical clinics, including managing employees responsible for marketing, and recruiting and transporting patients.
All eight defendants will be ordered to appear for arraignment in U.S. District Court.
Four defendants ― Novak, Payawal, Puorro, and Velgara ― were each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the federal healthcare anti-kickback statute by offering and paying kickbacks and bribes, directly and indirectly, from Sacred Heart to Drs. May, Maitra, Moshiri, Kandala, and other physicians to induce them to refer patients to the hospital for services that would be reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid. Sacred Heart’s chief operating officer before Puorro, identified as “Administrator A,” is named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
In addition, Novak and Payawal were each charged with eight substantive counts of paying kickbacks for patients, while Drs. May, Maitra, Moshiri, and Kandala were charged with two counts each of accepting kickbacks for patient referrals. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of illegal proceeds from Novak, Payawal, and the four physicians, including the unspecified total amount of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements made on claims submitted on behalf of hospital patients whose referral involved kickbacks, and the total amount of kickbacks paid to the four physicians.
According to the indictment, Sacred Heart’s owner, executives and administrators conspired between 2004 and April 2013 to pay physicians bribes concealed as consulting, employment and personal services compensation, rent, and instructional stipends in return for referrals of Medicare and Medicaid patients. Although styled as payments for legitimate services, the payments actually contained disguised bribes paid to and for the benefit of Drs. May, Maitra, Moshiri, and Kandala in exchange for patient referrals.
The indictment alleges that Novak, Payawal, Puorro, and Administrator A caused Sacred Heart to pay May hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes disguised as rent, and Moshiri more than $150,000 in bribes disguised as payments for purportedly teaching podiatric surgery residents. Novak, Payawal, and Puorro allegedly caused Sacred Heart to pay Maitra at least $68,000 in bribes disguised as payments for purportedly teaching medical students at the hospital; and Kandala at least $32,000 in bribes disguised as compensation for consulting and instructional services purportedly provided to the hospital and its staff.
Payawal, Puorro, and Velgara allegedly agreed to have Sacred Heart offer to pay bribes to the hospital’s transportation staff to recruit and refer patients to the hospital, and those three defendants, together with Novak, also caused Sacred Heart to pay individuals employed as “marketers” to recruit patients.
As part of the same investigation, a fifth physician associated with Sacred Heart was indicted separately this month for allegedly illegally prescribing hydrocodone or lorazepam to four different patients without having a valid license and registration to prescribe controlled substances. The defendant, Dr. KENNETH S. NAVE, 51, of Chicago, who also was arrested and charged last April, allegedly illegally used the Drug Enforcement Administration registration number of another physician when he prescribed the prescription narcotics between October and December 2012. Nave pleaded not guilty at his arraignment this week.
Each count in the eight-defendant Novak indictment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine and restitution is mandatory. Each count in the Nave indictment carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel Hammerman, Ryan Hedges and Terra Reynolds.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case falls under the umbrella of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which expanded operations to Chicago in February 2011, and is part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Justice Department and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Dozens of defendants have been charged in health care fraud cases since the strike force began operating in Chicago.
To report health care fraud to learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: stopmedicarefraud.gov.