owner of laboratory sentenced to 82 months in prison for COVID-19 bribe program | Takeover bid
Florida owner of several diagnostic testing labs was sentenced today in the Southern District of Florida to 82 months in jail for a scheme to defraud the United States and pay and receive bribes by exploiting the regulatory exemptions put in place to ensure access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to court documents, Leonel Palatnik, 42, of Aventura, as part owner of Panda Conservation Group LLC (Panda), conspired with other part owners of the company and with Michael Stein, owner of 1523 Holdings LLC , to pay illegal bribes to Stein in exchange for his work to get telemedicine providers to authorize orders for genetic testing for Panda’s labs. 1523 Holdings and Panda then exploited temporary changes to telehealth restrictions enacted during the pandemic, which aimed to expand access to care for Medicare beneficiaries by making it easier for beneficiaries to receive needed medical care at home. Palatnik and his co-conspirators took advantage of these waivers by using telehealth providers to authorize thousands of orders for medically unnecessary cancer and cardiovascular genetic testing. In return, Panda gave these providers access to beneficiary information and the ability to bill for so-called telehealth consultations with Medicare beneficiaries, which often did not take place. On August 31, Palatnik pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to defraud the United States and offering bribes and one count of paying a bribe. -wine.
Deputy Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice; Acting Deputy Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division; and Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) made the announcement.
FBI field offices in Miami and Dallas and the HHS-OIG are investigating the case, with help from the FBI’s Health Care Rapid Response Team.
National Rapid Response Strike Force trial lawyer Ligia Markman is pursuing the case.
The case against Palatnik was brought as part of the coordinated COVID-19 healthcare fraud action on May 26 against 14 defendants in seven judicial districts. Palatnik has been charged along with Stein, who is currently awaiting trial. Law enforcement action was initiated in coordination with the COVID-19 Interagency Working Group of the Health Care Fraud Unit, which is chaired by the National Strike Force of rapid response and organize efforts to combat illegal activities involving healthcare programs during the pandemic.
The Fraud Section leads the Criminal Division’s efforts to combat health care fraud through the Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program. Since March 2007, this program, made up of 15 strike forces operating in 24 federal districts, has indicted more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program more than $ 19 billion. Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to hold providers accountable for their involvement in healthcare fraud schemes. Further information is available at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/health-care-fraud-unit.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General created the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Working Group to mobilize the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with government agencies to strengthen efforts to combat and prevent the pandemic fraud. The Working Group strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable national and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud, among other methods, by scaling up and integrating mechanisms coordination, identifying resources and techniques for uncovering fraudulent actors and their programs, and sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about alleged attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Enforcement (NCDF) hotline at 866-720 -5721 or via the NCDF web complaint form at https: // www. justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
An indictment is only an allegation, and Stein is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.