Henry Geoffrey Watson, a medical doctor residing in Oakland, California, was convicted by a federal jury of charges that included accepting kickbacks for patient referrals to home health agencies, health care fraud, and false statements relating to a health care matter.
The jury found that 67 year old Watson engaged in three health care kickback schemes from 2013 to 2019, using his position as a licensed medical doctor. The first scheme involved a conspiracy in which Watson agreed to refer patients to home health agency Amity Home Health Carein exchange for illegal kickback payments. The evidence at trial proved that Watson and employees of Amity and its CEO, Amanda Singh, conspired to pay Watson regular and recurring amounts, sometimes in the form of cash payments of $3,000 a month, to ensure that Watson referred Medicare patients to Amity each month.
Title 42, United States Code, Section 1320a-7b, the Anti-Kickback Statute, makes it a crime for any person to knowingly solicit, offer, or pay a kickback, bribe, or rebate for furnishing services under a Federal health care program including Medicare.
In the second scheme proved at trial, Watson accepted kickback payments from an undercover FBI agent posing as a home health agency representative seeking Watson’s agreement to refer his patients to a particular Bay Area home health agency. The evidence at trial included video recordings of Watson accepting envelopes of cash, for a total of more than $10,000, at four meetings in 2017. The jury heard evidence that Watson also suggested other doctors who he believed would be willing to accept illegal payments for referrals from the undercover agent.
The third scheme proved at trial involved a conspiracy between Watson and others to repeatedly and falsely certify individuals for Medicare-funded home health services that the individuals did not seek and did not need. The evidence at trial showed that Watson and co-conspirators arranged for Watson to briefly meet large numbers of unwitting elderly residents of Bay Area retirement homes. After these meetings, held in common areas or recreation rooms, Watson certified that each and every resident he met was homebound, meaning they had a normal inability to leave the home. In fact, according to the evidence and the jury’s verdict, Watson knew that the patients were not homebound and did not need the services he prescribed.
Watson did not conduct any tests or conduct any inquiry about whether they were homebound, according to trial evidence, but he nevertheless made fraudulent referrals to the three home health agencies. During time periods that Watson repeatedly certified that certain individuals were homebound, testimony from these individuals and their regular primary care doctors showed that the individuals were generally healthy and active, engaging in activities such as traveling internationally, shopping, walking stairs, and jogging. The evidence proved Watson falsely billed Medicare for certifying these individuals for home health and for supervising their home health care, despite the fact that the individuals did not need that care. As part of the conspiracy, Watson was paid illegal kickbacks of $100 per patient referral by a co-conspirator working for the three home health agencies.
Criminal charges against Watson were unsealed on September 5, 2019, when the United States Attorney’s Office announced charges by criminal complaint against 30 defendants in a wide-ranging, patients-for-kickback scheme. Those charges included criminal kickback charges against Amity Home Health Care, which was then the largest home health care provider in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Advent Care, a provider of hospice care. In relation to the investigation that led to the charges and conviction of Watson, other individuals and doctors were also convicted of illegal kickbacks:
– – Amity’s CEO, Ridhima Amanda Singh pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to pay kickbacks for the referrals of Medicare beneficiaries on August 5, 2022, in Court Case No. 22-CR-267 CRB.
– – Dr. Bhupinder Bhandari pled guilty to violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute on June 6, 2022, in Court Case No. 20-CR-374 JD.
– – Dr. Zheng Zhang pled guilty to violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute on April 25, 2022, in Court Case No. 22-CR-090 VC.
– – Dr. Gerald Myint pled guilty to violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute on November 18, 2020, in Court Case No. 20-CR-408 CRB.
– – Dr. Juan Posada pled guilty to violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute on January 27, 2021, in Court Case No. 20-CR-420 RS.
All those defendants have been sentenced by the judges assigned to those cases.
Watson remains released on bond pending sentencing. Watson’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 28, 2024, before Judge Breyer in San Francisco. Any sentence will be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.