TRENTON, N.J. – A Pennsylvania medical assistant today admitted participating in a conspiracy to receive bribes and kickbacks in exchange for ordering genetic tests, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Amber Harris, 28, of Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to an information charging her with one count of conspiring to violate the anti-kickback statute.
Harris is the first of several defendants to plead guilty in long-running bribery and kickback schemes involving doctors and medical employees in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, area.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Harris worked as a medical assistant for Yitzachok “Barry” Kurtzer, a primary care physician with offices in the Scranton area. From at least 2018, Kurtzer and his wife, Robin Kurtzer, accepted monthly cash kickbacks and bribes in exchange for collecting DNA samples from Medicare patients and sending them for genetic tests to clinical laboratories in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The cash kickbacks ranged up to $5,000, and the Kurtzers typically accepted the cash in one of Kurtzer’s offices.
Even as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic substantially reduced in-patient visits, the Kurtzers continued with their scheme. They went from receiving hand-delivered cash kickbacks and bribes to accepting payments by wire and through a cell phone money transfer app.
Harris and another employee, Shanelyn Kennedy, also participated in the scheme. They both helped collect the DNA swabs in exchange for also receiving kickbacks and bribes, both in cash and later using the money transfer app.
As a result of the scheme, Medicare paid $755,241 for genetic tests generated from Kurtzer’s practice.
The count of conspiracy to violate the federal anti-kickback statute is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss derived from the offense, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 5, 2020.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez in Newark; and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Regional Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Maureen R. Dixon, with the investigation leading to the charges. He also thanked the FBI Scranton Field Office, FBI Philadelphia Division and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office for their assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua L. Haber of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division, Newark.
The charges against and allegations against the remaining defendants are merely accusations, and those defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.