Aventura Businessman Sentenced To 82 Months For His Role In Scamming Medicare By Performing Medically Unnecessary Lab Tests
The pandemic shutdown days of 2020 brought about a new normal. It required some people to overcome their fear of technology. Finally setting up online banking and communicating with co-workers by video chat are not everyone’s cup of tea, but for the cautious, they were better than risking exposure to a contagious illness with no vaccine and no cure. Many doctors who treat the elderly began seeing most patients through telemedicine appointments, for their own safety as well as that of their patients. Of course, telemedicine has a learning curve; doctors must decide which tests to order and which follow-up questions to ask based entirely on an online consultation. If doctors, out of an abundance of caution, sometimes ordered tests that did not yield informative results, most of the time it was a harmless mistake. In at least one scam, though, doctors who were authorized to treat Medicare patients through telemedicine conspired with a laboratory to bill Medicare for millions of dollars’ worth of medically unnecessary diagnostic tests. Here, our Miami white collar crimes defense lawyer explains how a laboratory owner took advantage of the telemedicine Zeitgeist to scam Medicare, how he got caught, and what may happen next.
The Charges: Conspiracy to Offer Kickbacks and Paying a Kickback
In the spring of 2020, as the first wave of COVID-19 infections surged in Florida, seniors were among the hardest hit. To slow the spread of new infections, Medicare hastily authorized many doctors who had never previously worked through telemedicine before to conduct virtual visits with Medicare patients. Michael Stein, the owner of a West Palm Beach consulting company called 1523 Holdings allegedly made it his business to find out who these temporarily telemedicine-authorized physicians were and to encourage them to order lab tests to be conducted through Panda Conservation Group, a lab belonging to Leonel Palatnik of Aventura. Palatnik later acknowledged in his plea agreement that he paid Stein $50,000 per month for his trouble, every month from April 2020 until December 2020 when authorities found out about the operation. To conceal the true nature of their business relationship, Palatnik and Stein allegedly signed an agreement in which it appeared that Stein and his company were providing tech consulting services for Panda.
Most of the tests that the physicians ordered, under Stein’s alleged direction, were genetic tests to screen for cancer and heart disease. These tests were medically unnecessary, and in some cases, the telemedicine consultations involved never took place. By the time of Palatnik’s arrest, Panda had sent Medicare $93 million in invoices for lab tests, and Medicare had paid at least $61 million for these tests. The Miami Herald and the Department of Justice website did not mention the names of any of the physicians allegedly involved in the scheme or whether any of these physicians have received criminal charges; it did, however, mention that Palatnik was one of 14 defendants arrested in connection with the operation.
The Plea Deal: Palatnik May Testify Against Co-Defendant
Palatnik, 42, received federal criminal charges for one count of conspiracy to provide kickbacks and one count of paying a kickback. If he had been convicted of these crimes at trial, he could have received a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. In August 2021, Palatnik pleaded guilty to the charges. Meanwhile, Stein entered a plea of not guilty.
The Sentence: 82 Months in Federal Prison
On November 9, 2021, a federal court handed down a sentence of 82 months in prison for Palatnik. The Department of Justice press release did not indicate at what point during his sentence, if at all, Palatnik will become eligible for parole. As a condition of the plea deal, prosecutors may ask Palatnik to testify against Stein or against any other defendants who may be arrested in connection with the Medicare kickback scheme.
Defendants in financial crimes cases are sometimes required to pay restitution as part of their sentences, although Palatnik’s case did not mention anything about restitution. Restitution is when a convicted defendant pays compensation to victims of the crime for financial losses caused by the defendant’s actions.
Contact Our Financial Crimes Defense Attorneys
Healthcare fraud is a serious crime that can result in a long prison sentence. A Miami whtie collar crime lawyer if you are facing criminal charges for your alleged participation in a scheme to benefit financially from defrauding health insurance companies or publicly funded healthcare programs like Medicare. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo for help today.