Florida lab owner pleads guilty to $73M Medicare kickback scheme

A southern Florida man pleaded guilty for his role in a $73 million conspiracy to defraud the Medicare health insurance program, the Department of Justice said Sept. 1.

Leonel Palatnik, co-owner of Panda Conservation Group LLC, admitted to paying kickbacks to a telemedicine company in exchange for doctors to authorize medically unnecessary genetic testing, according to the press release.

The scheme “exploited” temporary amendments to telehealth restrictions enacted during the pandemic to ensure Medicare beneficiaries have access to healthcare.

RELATED: DOJ charges telehealth executives, doctors with exploiting COVID-19 to rake up $143M in fraud

Michael Stein, owner of telemedicine company 1523 Holdings LLC, entered into a sham contract with Panda’s owners for IT and consultation services to disguise the kickback payments. In exchange for the telehealth services, the providers agreed to refer Medicare beneficiaries to Panda’s laboratories for medically unnecessary genetic testing.

The case against Palatnik was brought May 26 as part of the COVID-19 healthcare fraud coordinated law enforcement action against 14 defendants in seven judicial districts. The attorney general established a task force in May to enhance efforts to prevent, prosecute and investigate pandemic-related fraud.

Palatnik is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 9 and faces up to 15 years in prison.

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