In a series of related cases the former chief financial officer of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, two orthopedic surgeons and two others have been charged in long-running health care fraud schemes that allegedly referred thousands of patients for spinal surgeries and generated nearly $600 million in fraudulent billings over an eight-year period.
Two of the defendants have pleaded guilty and three others have agreed to plead guilty in the coming weeks. All five defendants have agreed to cooperate in the government’s ongoing investigation into kickbacks for patient referrals and fraudulent bills for spinal surgeries.
The schemes involved tens of millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks to dozens of doctors, chiropractors and others.As a result of the illegal payments, thousands of patients were referred to Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, where they underwent spinal surgeries that led to more than $580 million in bills being fraudulently submitted during the last eight years of the scheme alone. Many of the fraudulent claims were paid by the California worker’s compensation system and the federal government.
In a second, similar scheme that also involved spinal surgeries, doctors received illegal kickbacks for referrals to a Hawaiian Gardens hospital.
Federal prosecutors filed two cases related to the scheme, and earlier three other cases were unsealed by a federal judge. Those named in the cases are:
1) James L. Canedo, 63, of San Pedro, California, the former CFO of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, who pleaded guilty on Sept. 4 to a criminal information charging him with participating in a conspiracy that engaged in mail fraud, honest services fraud, money laundering, paying or receiving kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program and violating the Travel Act, specifically, interstate travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise. The case against Canedo was unsealed a few days ago by U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton of the Central District of California, who is scheduled to sentence the defendant on June 17, 2016.
2) Philip Sobol, 61, of Studio City, California, an orthopedic surgeon who has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, honest services fraud and violations of the Travel Act; as well as a separate, substantive Travel Act violation. The information against Sobol and a related plea agreement were filed in U.S. District Court, where the Sobol is expected to be arraigned next month.
3) Alan Ivar, 55, of Las Vegas, a chiropractor who formerly resided in San Juan Capistrano, California, and owned several businesses based in Costa Mesa, California, was charged in a criminal information that alleges one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, honest services fraud, money laundering and violations of the Travel Act. In a plea agreement also filed at the same time, Ivar admitted that for well over a decade, he had an agreement with the owner of Pacific Hospital to refer patients in exchange for a monthly retainer. Ivar, who also agreed to plead guilty, is expected to be arraigned next month.
4) Paul Richard Randall, 56, of Orange, California, a health care marketer previously affiliated with Pacific Hospital and Tri-City Regional Medical Center in Hawaiian Gardens, pleaded guilty on April 16, 2012, before Judge Staton to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Randall, who admitted recruiting chiropractors and doctors to refer patients to Tri-City in exchange for kickbacks, is scheduled to be sentenced on April 8, 2016.
5) Mitchell Cohen, 55, of Irvine, California, an orthopedic surgeon, was charged last week with filing a false tax return. Cohen admits in a plea agreement filed on Nov. 16 that he failed to report income received from kickback payments and is expected to be arraigned next month.
All five defendants have agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation, dubbed “Operation Spinal Cap,” into the kickback schemes, which involved dozens of surgeons, orthopedic specialists, chiropractors, marketers and other medical professionals.
Under the terms of their plea agreements, Sobol faces a federal prison term of up to 10 years; Canedo, Ivar and Randall face up to five years in prison; and Cohen faces up to three years in prison on the tax charge. All of the defendants will be required to pay restitution to the victims of the scheme, which in Canedo’s case will be at least $20 million.
As part of the scheme, the conspirators typically paid a kickback of $15,000 for each lumbar fusion surgery and $10,000 for each cervical fusion surgery. Some of the patients lived hundreds of miles away from Pacific Hospital and closer to other qualified medical facilities. The patients were not informed that medical professionals had been offered kickbacks to induce them to refer the surgeries to Pacific Hospital. From 2005 through 2013, only part of the overall scheme, Pacific Hospital billed insurers more than $580 million for spinal surgeries on more than 4,400 patients. Insurers paid the hospital more than $226 million for the surgeries performed as a result of illegal kickbacks.
The conspirators in the Pacific Hospital scheme concealed the kickback payments by entering into bogus contracts to provide a “cover story” for the doctors, chiropractors and others who received illegal payments. For example, a number of doctors entered into agreements with a Pacific Specialty Physician Management (PSPM), a company owned by Drobot, under which the doctors received as much as $100,000 per month from PSPM in return for the right to purchase their medical practices – an option that was never exercised. PSPM paid some doctors inflated prices for the right to operate their practices and collect on their insurance claims. In still other cases, Pacific Hospital entered into contracts with doctors under which the doctors were to help the hospital collect on its surgery bills to insurance companies, but the hospital’s own collection staff, rather than the doctors, actually performed the collections work. Several doctors entered into lease agreements under which PSPM or Pacific Hospital paid rent for the use of office space, but rarely used the space. And other doctors had agreements to provide consulting services to Drobot’s companies, but did not actually provide the services. Still others, including marketers who introduced doctors to Pacific Hospital, had additional agreements with Drobot’s companies.
Sobol, Ivar and Cohen each received, respectively, $5.2 million, $1.24 million and $1.64 million in kickbacks.Together they referred more than 200 patients to Pacific Hospital.
Two other Drobot companies, California Pharmacy Management (CPM) and its successor, Industrial Pharmacy Management (IPM), were also important players in the scheme. Both companies set up and managed what were essentially mini-pharmacies within doctors’ offices. CPM and IPM bought and dispensed medication that the doctors prescribed to their patients, and these businesses received a portion of the money reimbursed by insurance companies for the medications. Drobot, along with others at CPM and IPM, often agreed to increase the doctors’ shares of the insurance claims in return for those doctors’ referral of patients to Pacific Hospital. In many cases, for doctors who made such referrals, the conspirators “advanced” payments from CPM and IPM before the companies had collected any money for the medications or even prescribed them, and often simply “wrote off” payments as losses when collections fell short.
Randall, who also facilitated the Pacific Hospital scheme by introducing doctors to Drobot and coordinating kickback arrangements, pleaded guilty to participating in a separate, similar scheme involving Tri-City Regional Medical Center. According to his plea agreement, Randall acted as a “marketer” for Tri-City and conspired with hospital executives to pay kickbacks to doctors and chiropractors to refer workers’ compensation patients Tri-City for spinal surgeries. As in the Pacific Hospital scheme, the surgeries at Tri-City involved use of spinal surgery hardware that Randall distributed to Tri-City at inflated prices through his company Summit Medical Group, knowing that the cost would be passed on to insurers. Using proceeds from the sale of the hardware, Randall paid a 5 percent kickback to Tri-City and kickbacks of up to $20,000 per surgery to the doctors and chiropractors who referred the patients. In addition, Randall paid kickbacks to doctors in return for referrals of patients for toxicology tests though a separate company, Platinum Medical. The scheme resulted in several million dollars in losses to insurers.