Former Hudson County Public Official Charged with Accepting Bribes for Patient Referrals
NEWARK, N.J. – A Hudson County, New Jersey, woman formerly employed by the Hudson County Office on Aging was charged today with accepting bribes for referring patients in need of home health care aides, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Myrtha Nicolas, 61, of Jersey City, New Jersey, was charged by complaint with one count of extortion under color of official right. She made her initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in Newark federal court today and was released on $100,000 unsecured bond.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
The Hudson County Office on Aging is an agency of the N.J. Division of Disability Services (DDS) under the State of New Jersey’s Department of Human Services. The DDS works to streamline access to services and information designed to promote and enhance independent living for individuals with disabilities. Included among the services coordinated by DDS were Managed Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS), whether for an individual living at home, an assisted living facility, or a nursing home.
As a referral coordinator for the Office on Aging, Nicolas exercised control over the coordination and assignment of patients with disabilities in need of home health care services to companies that provide home health care aides.
In June of 2016, Nicolas was approached by a confidential witness (the “CW”) who was a self-employed executive of a home health care company. Nicolas agreed to help refer patients to the CW and agreed to accept $500 dollars per patient she referred to the CW’s company.
On Aug. 4, 2016, Nicolas accepted a payment of $600 for the referral of a patient. The CW complained that the CW was forced to redirect the patient to another health care company because the patient proved difficult, prompting Nicolas to assure the CW that the CW “will get the easy ones,” in the future. On Jan. 23, 2017, Nicolas accepted another $600 cash payment for a patient referral. Nicolas confirmed that she had previously received gift cards from the CW years earlier, but expressed no preference whether future payments from the CW would be in cash or gift cards. On Oct. 17, 2017, Nicolas accepted a final corrupt payment of $1,000 from the CW for patient referrals, promising the CW that in terms of future patients, “whatever I have, you’ll have.”
The extortion under color of official right charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie, with the investigation leading to the charges.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. McCarren of the Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.
The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty