United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Physician Sentenced To Eight Years In Federal Prison For Role In Massive Medicare Fraud Scam
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
CONTACT: Lauren Horwood
January 12, 2012
PHONE: (916) 554-2706
Docket #: CR S 08-0427 MCE
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that Alexander Popov, 47, of Los Angeles, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. to eight years and one month in prison for committing health care fraud and conspiring to commit health care fraud. He was found guilty by a jury on July 8, 2011.
In sentencing, Judge England found that Popov, a medical doctor, was responsible for more than a million dollars in fraudulent billings submitted to Medicare and more than $600,000 in payments made on false claims. Popov abused his position of trust as a physician and endangered the health of patients. Evidence at trial showed that Popov gave false testimony and manufactured evidence at trial, amounting to an obstruction of justice. In particular, a letter produced by Popov on the eve of trial, and supposedly written years earlier while the conspiracy was in progress.
According to testimony presented at trial, from February 2006 through August 2008, Vardges Egiazarian, 63, of Panorama City, owned and controlled three health care clinics in Sacramento, Richmond, and Carmichael. Egiazarian and others recruited doctors to submit applications to Medicare for billing numbers. Popov assumed the role of co-owner and practitioner at the Sacramento clinic, and claims were be submitted to Medicare under his name for medical services purportedly rendered at the clinic.
In fact, Popov never treated a single patient at the clinics. Clinic patients, almost all of whom were elderly and non-English speaking, were recruited and transported to the clinics by individuals who were paid according to the number of patients they brought to the facilities. Rather than being charged a co-payment, the patients were paid for their time and the use of their Medicare eligibility, generally in the amount of $100 per visit. Patient charts were created falsely stating that each patient received comprehensive exams and a broad array of diagnostic tests. Few of these tests were ever performed, none were performed based on any medical need, and clinic employees filled out other portions of the charts using preprinted templates. Some clinic employees admitted to performing various tests on themselves, and placing the results in patient files.
Patient files were then transported to Southern California, where Popov would sign them indicating he provided or approved the treatments therein, and sign related billing forms. These files were then used to support billing submitted to Medicare for treatments and services that were unnecessary, never performed, or both. In all, the three clinics submitted more than $5 million worth of fraudulent claims to Medicare, $1.7 million of which was actually paid. In return for their roles, Popov and the other involved physicians received 20 percent of the billings paid under their respective provider numbers.
In pronouncing sentence, Judge England stated that the conspiracy was “a very sophisticated operation.” Dr. Popov requested leniency on the basis of the benefits he had provided and could continue to provide to society in his role as a physician. The Judge rejected this, stating, “a physician should be held to a higher standard rather than a lower standard. … People trust their doctors, people want to trust their doctors … this was about making money. … He used his profession, he used his education, he used his intelligence in the worst possible way. It’s extremely troubling.”
This case is the product of an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Philip Ferrari and Jean M. Hobler prosecuted the case.
“The actions perpetrated by this individual illustrate the complete disregard for government sponsored healthcare programs, including the Medicare program,” said Ivan Negroni, Special Agent‑in‑Charge of the San Francisco Region for the United States Department of Health and Human Services. “HHS‑OIG is dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners to pursue and apprehend those who take advantage of Medicare.”
Others who have previously pleaded guilty in this matter include:
- Vardges Egiazarian, currently serving 78 months in prison.
- Derrick Johnson, a doctor involved with the Richmond clinic, who is currently awaiting sentencing on March 22, 2012.
- Nazaret Salmanyan, an unlicensed ultrasound technician who worked in the clinics and is awaiting sentencing on January 26, 2012.
- Zoya Belov, a nurse licensed in Russia but not the United States, who is awaiting sentencing on May 10, 2012.
- Shushanik Martirosyan, who billed Medicare as part of the scheme, who is awaiting sentencing on May 10, 2012.
- Migran Petrosyan, one of the businessmen, who is awaiting sentencing on March 29, 2012.
- Liw Jiaw Saechao, aka Jenny Saechao, who recruited patients for the clinics and is awaiting sentencing on March 29, 2012.
Emilio Cruz, another physician charged in the superseding indictment in this case, was arrested on July 21, 2011, and remains in custody pending trial. His next court hearing is scheduled for February 23, 2012. The charges in the superseding indictment as to Dr. Cruz are only allegations and he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.