Former Chief Operating Officer at MetroHealth Hospitals indicted for taking bribes
The former Chief Operating Officer of MetroHealth Hospital System is one of four men indicted for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud the hospital and others through a series of bribes and kickbacks totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars related to the hospital’s dental program, law enforcement officials said.
Named in the indictment are: Edward R. Hills, 56, of Aurora; Sari Alqsous, 32, of Cleveland; Yazan B. Al-Madani, 32, of Westlake; and Tariq Sayegh, 38, of Cleveland.
Hills worked in various capacities at MetroHealth, including as Chief Operating Officer and Director of MetroHealth Dental. He also served as interim President and Chief Executive Officer from December 2012 through July 2013. Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh are dentists who worked for MetroHealth.
“I hoped we had reached a point in Cuyahoga County where public employees taking cash bribes and using downtown apartments to entertain friends was a thing of the past,” U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon said. “We will remain vigilant in stamping out public corruption and these defendants will be held accountable for their crimes.”
“Being extorted is not what a dental resident is expecting when applying to a dental program but that is exactly what happened, and that is not the only illegal scheme these four devised,” said Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland Office. “MetroHealth officials discovered possible wrongdoing, contacted the FBI, and partnered with the FBI to ensure that these individuals would be held accountable for their criminal actions.”
“These government-funded programs were designed to help the men, women, and children of Cuyahoga County, but these individuals defrauded them for their own personal gain and used their companies as personal piggy banks." said Kathy A. Enstrom, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office. “Therefore, in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division gives priority to investigations involving the alleged breach of the public trust by public officials at any level.”
“This investigation found that these defendants were motivated by greed to manipulate the health care system and extort dental residents in order to line their own pockets,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
According to the 33-count indictment unsealed today in U.S. District Court:
Hills, Alqsous and Al-Madani engaged in a RICO conspiracy from 2008 through this year involving a series of elaborate bribery conspiracies, witness tampering and other crimes. These bribes include Hills soliciting cash, checks, a $3,879 Louis Vuitton briefcase, a 55-inch television, airline flights and use of a downtown apartment from Alqsous, Al-Madani and others. In return, Hills took official actions on their behalf, including allowing them to work at their private dental businesses during regular business hours while receiving a full-time salary from MetroHealth.
Alqsous, Al-Madani and others gave cash, checks and other things of value to Hills beginning in 2009. The indictment details text messages and meetings, often at expensive restaurants, which resulted in cash being deposited into Hills’ bank accounts.
Alqsous sent a text message to Al-Madani and another person in 2013 that stated: “With 22nd of October approaching we ll be celebrating Dr hills bday earlier this year…1000 dollars each is the gift from the 3 sons their father.” Later that day, $3,000 was deposited into Hills’ bank account.
In 2012, Alqsous rented and lived in an apartment at the Perry Payne apartment building in downtown Cleveland. When he bought a residence, Hills instructed Alqsous to continue paying rent and other bills at the Perry Payne building, even though Alqsous would no longer be living there. Hills used the Perry Payne apartment to house an associate and for his own personal use in 2013 and 2014 while Alqsous, acting on Hills’ orders, continued to pay rent and other bills.
Hills instructed Alqsous to purchase furniture for the apartment for Hills’ personal use. Alqsous sent Hills a text in 2013 stating: “I bought your bedroom yesterday…there is mirrors everywhere…You will like it.”
Hills became interim President and CEO of the MetroHealth Hospital System in December 2012. Around that time, he told Alqsous, Al-Madani and others that he wanted a specific Louis Vuitton briefcase because his predecessor had a similar briefcase.
Alqsous texted a photo of the briefcase to Hills and wrote: “The guys are also very excited about their raise haha.” Hills responded with: “Thanks I’m so excited to have my bag to start my new job as #1.” Later that day, Alqsous, Al-Madani and others purchased the briefcase for $3,879 from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beachwood and later presented it to Hills.
As director of MetroHealth Dental, Hills was responsible for determining monthly bonuses for dentists who produced receipts in excess of their monthly salary and benefits. Dentists typically received a monthly bonus totaling 25 percent of the monies they generated for excess receipts.
Between 2010 and 2014, Hills regularly upwardly adjusted the bonuses of Alqsous, Al-Madani and others, by a total of approximately $92,829.
Hills also allowed Alqsous, Al-Madani and others to retain full-time salaries and benefits at MetroHealth without requiring them to work full-time hours, thus allowing them to operate private dental clinics. Hills, acting at the request of Alqsous and Al-Madani, provided MetroHealth dental residents to practice at those private clinics during regular business hours. Neither Alqsous nor Al-Madani paid wages or salaries to the resident dentists.
Additionally, Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh solicited and accepted bribes totaling tens of thousands of dollars from prospective candidates to the MetroHealth Dental residency program.
In a typical year, the MetroHealth Dental residency accepted four to six candidates for the residency program from a pool of 40 to 60 applicants. Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani each had the authority to influence the selection of dental residents, and Hills had final decisional authority over who was selected for the residency program.
Alqsous and Sayegh often identified and selected candidates who were from Jordan or trained at a Jordanian dental school, telling them they would have to pay a “donation” to MetroHealth to be considered. Alqsous and Sayegh directed the candidates to pay the “donation” directly to them, and in some cases, told the candidates a portion of the money would go to Hills.
Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani solicited at least $75,000 in bribes from resident dentist candidate between 2008 and 2014.
In another conspiracy, Al-Madani and Alqsous paid bribes to Hills in exchange for him taking actions to refer Medicaid recipients to private dental clinics owned by Al-Madani and Alqsous instead of MetroHealth. All three took steps to conceal this activity by claiming kickback checks totaling $17,600 written to Hills were for “consultation fees” or “professional fees”.
Hills, Alqsous and Al-Madani also conspired to obstruct justice, instructing people not to cooperate with law enforcement after becoming aware of the federal investigation in 2014.
Hills also made false statements on tax returns, failing to claim approximately $165,751 in unreported income stemming from bribes, kickbacks and other things of value between 2011 and 2013.
If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violations. In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and, in most cases, it will be less than the maximum.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Om Kakani and Michael L. Collyer following an investigation by the FBI, IRS-CI, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Office of the Inspector General.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The investigation is ongoing.