By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On September 7, 2021, federal prosecutors announced the arrest of a Florida surgeon and owner of device company SpineFrontier Inc on charges of bribing surgeons to use products by paying sham consulting fees.
Accused in an indictment in Boston federal court for violating the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and conspiracy to commit money laundering, is the company’s founder and CEO from Florida. Also charged in the indictment were the company’s chief financial officer from Massachusetts and the device company itself. The charges of AKS violations carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, while the money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Click here to view the indictment in full.
Alleged Bribes & Kickbacks.
The allegations are that from March 2013 through December 2018, the defendants entered into consulting contracts in which they allegedly agreed to pay surgeons between $250 and $1,000 per hour for consulting work. However, prosecutors claim that the surgeons paid did little consulting work, and the payments only served as bribes to use their company’s products. During that time, surgeons accepted between $32,625 and $978,000 in improper payments, according to the indictment.
Department of Justice Civil Lawsuit For ‘Sham’ Consulting Fees.
In March 2020, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against SpineFrontier, accusing the company of illegally funneling more than $8 million to nearly three dozen surgeons. The complaint alleges that the defendants created a separate company which was used as an intermediary to funnel illicit payments to surgeons. Additionally, the indictment lists seven surgeons who have allegedly received bribes totaling $2,747,463 to serve as “sham consultants.” Read the complaint in full here to learn more.
The Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) prohibits offering, paying, soliciting, or receiving remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by Medicare, TRICARE, and other federally funded programs. It is intended to ensure that a physician’s medical judgment is not compromised by improper financial incentives. Conspiring to violate the kickback laws, can bring up to five years in prison while actually violating the kickback laws can result in a sentence of up to 10 years.
“Kickbacks paid to surgeons as sham medical consultants, as alleged in this case, cheat patients and taxpayers alike,” reportedly said Phillip Coyne, Special Agent in Ccharge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). “Working with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to investigate kickback schemes that threaten the integrity of our federal health care system, no matter how those schemes are disguised.”
You can read the DOJ’s press release on the case here.
Physicians Beware of Such Schemes.
Physicians should beware of any contract, plan or offer which offers them money for little or no work at all. They should also be aware of plans in which they are “given” ownership interest in or made officers in companies and businesses without their having to buy into them. Such schemes are often used by unscrupulous non-physicians to sucker in physicians so that they can be used to perpetrate criminal enterprises. In may cases, the scheme is to defraud Medicare or another health insurer. Often older or retired physicians seeking to supplement their income fail prey to such schemes. Often the purpose is just to obtain the physician’s personal identification number or DEA number to order false prescriptions and diagnostic tests or to carry out other fraudulent billing schemes. Physicians should always remember two old adages: “Nothing is free” and “If it seems to good to be true, it isn’t.”
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Health Care Fraud, False Claims Act Violations, and Anti-Kickback Statute Violations.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in cases of medical billing fraud, overbilling, Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits, False Claims Act cases, and whistleblower/qui tam cases throughout Florida and across the United States. Our attorneys also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Schulte, Fred. “Florida Spine Surgeon and Device Company Owner Charged in Kickback Scheme.” Kaiser Health News. (September 8, 2021). Web.
Pierson, Brendan. “SpineFrontier execs arrested, charged with kickback scheme.” Reuters. (September 7, 2021). Web.
“Florida Spine Surgeon And Device Company Owner Charged in Kickback Scheme.” Health News Florida. (September 8, 2021). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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