Menu Close

Dr. Akikur Reza Mohammad, 58, of West Hills, California was sentenced to 15 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to broker patients as part of a multi-state patient referral kickback scheme in which recruiters were directed to bribe drug-addicted individuals to enroll in drug rehabilitation. The sentence followed his guilty plea on September 15, 2020.

Mohammad graduated from the Peoples Friendship University of Russia Faculty of Medicine in 1988, and currently still holds a valid license as a physician and surgeon in California.

He owned and operated the Las Virgenes Behavioral Health And Medical Clinic in Agoura Hills California. Several of his co-conspirators owned and operated a California marketing company. They orchestrated the scheme that involved bribing individuals addicted to heroin and other drugs to enter into drug rehabilitation centers, generating fees from those facilities in New Jersey, Maryland, California, and other states

The marketing company organized patient recruitment where Mohammed paid for patient referrals in exchange for kickbacks in part covered by reimbursements from health care programs. He received more than $439,000 from such programs.

The marketing company’s recruiters would encourage patients to remain at a facility for at least ten days to ensure reimbursement. The marketing company also steered patients to additional facilities to trigger extra payments without regard to medical necessity. Referral payments ranged from $5,000 to $10,000 per patient.

Mohammad pled guilty to violating the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act (“EKRA”) 18 U.S.C. § 220, one of the country’s first convictions under this statute targeting opioid kickbacks.

EKRA was enacted by Congress in October 2018 as part of a broader package of legislation aimed at combating the opioid crisis. The law bars the payment of kickbacks in exchange for the referral of patients to drug treatment facilities. Mohammad’s EKRA conviction is among the first such convictions in the country using the new charge.

Congress enacted EKRA as a part of the bipartisan Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act of 2018 (the “SUPPORT Act”), to respond to the opioid epidemic.

EKRA prohibits patient brokering and kickback arrangements involving recovery homes, clinical treatment facilities and clinical laboratories regardless of whether the service was paid by a government payor. Penalties for violation of EKRA include a fine of not more than $200,000, imprisonment of not more than ten years, or both, per violation.

However, EKRA goes further in prohibiting kickbacks for all recovery homes, clinical treatment facilities and clinical laboratories without requiring any tie to opioid or other drug treatment. Thus far, known enforcement cases under EKRA have focused on opioid and drug treatment cases.

Shortly after the enactment of EKRA, the Department of Justice (DOJ) created the Sober Homes Initiative in 2020 to focus on fraud schemes in the substance-abuse-treatment industry. Seeking to enforce EKRA, the Sober Homes Initiative focused on bringing criminal charges against medical providers believed to feed patient addictions in order to continue billing for their recovery.

Enforcement under EKRA can help shed light on questions remaining concerning the statute’s broad definitions, particularly around laboratory services, and its application in light of other federal laws such as the federal anti-kickback statute (AKS). Questions remain as to how EKRA interacts with the AKS, particularly for laboratory services, as the AKS has statutory and regulatory safe harbors that do not apply to EKRA-prohibited conduct.

In addition to the prison term, Mohammad was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $493,104.