SACRAMENTO, Calif. July 15 (News India) – Akop Atoyan, 48, of Glendale, pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, Atoyan and his wife, Liana Karapetyan, owned and controlled home health care and hospice agencies in the greater Sacramento area: ANG Health Care Inc., Excel Home Healthcare Inc., and Excel Hospice Inc. On behalf of the agencies, Atoyan and Karapetyan certified to Medicare that they would not pay kickbacks in exchange for Medicare beneficiary referrals to the agencies.
Despite their certifications, from at least July 2015 through April 2019, Atoyan and Karapetyan paid and directed others to pay kickbacks to multiple individuals for beneficiary referrals, including employees of health care facilities, as well as employees’ spouses. The kickback recipients included John Eby, a registered nurse who worked for a hospital in Sacramento; Anita Vijay, the director of social services at a skilled nursing and assisted living facility in Sacramento; Jai Vijay, Anita Vijay’s husband; and Mariela Panganiban, the director of social services at a skilled nursing facility in Roseville.
In total, Atoyan, Karapetyan, and others caused the agencies to submit over 8,000 claims to Medicare for the cost of home health care and hospice services. Based on those claims, Medicare paid the agencies approximately $31 million. Of that amount, Medicare paid the agencies over $2 million for services purportedly provided to beneficiaries, but these beneficiaries were referred in exchange for kickbacks paid to, among others, Eby, Anita Vijay, Jai Vijay, and Panganiban. Because the agencies obtained the beneficiary referrals by paying kickbacks, the agencies should not have received any Medicare reimbursement.
This case is a product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Thuesen is prosecuting the case.
As part of his guilty plea, Atoyan agreed to pay $2,525,363 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He also agreed to forfeit that same amount to the United States.
U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. is scheduled to sentence Atoyan on Oct. 7, 2021. Atoyan faces maximum statutory penalties of 10 years in prison for the health care fraud conspiracy charge and five years in prison for the kickback conspiracy charge. He also faces a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss for each charge. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
In separate cases, Karapetyan, Eby, Jai Vijay, Anita Vijay, and Panganiban pleaded guilty for their roles in the kickback scheme. They await sentencing.