LA hospital CEO pleads guilty to billing government for unnecessary care given to the homeless
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former hospital executive admitted Friday he paid a man to recruit homeless people for unnecessary medical treatment in a scheme to bilk government health programs out of millions of dollars.
Dr. Rudra Sabaratnam, who ran City of Angels Medical Center, faces up to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to paying a recruiter nearly $500,000 to find Skid Row homeless people with Medi-Cal or Medicare cards and transport them to the hospital.
In his plea agreement, which remains under seal, Sabaratnam also agreed to pay more than $4.1 million in restitution to Medicare and Medi-Cal.
Sabaratnam, 64, is scheduled to be sentenced June 8 on two counts of illegal patient referrals.
Messages left with City of Angels and Sabaratnam’s attorney were not immediately returned Friday.
U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said the doctor masterminded a sophisticated scheme to cheat the government out of millions of dollars from about August 2004 to October 2007.
The investigation was sparked in 2006 as Los Angeles police looked into reports that hospitals were dumping homeless patients on Skid Row streets.
Federal prosecutors said the homeless people — often drug addicts or mentally ill — were brought to the hospital and given unnecessary treatments in exchange for $100 or less. Often they were diagnosed with minor problems that didn’t require hospitalization, such as dehydration, exhaustion or yeast infections.
The government was sent the bill for the treatments, which would sometimes last days.
Sabaratnam and the recruiter, Estill Mitts, 64, were arrested after federal prosecutors issued a 21-count indictment in August.
Mitts, operator of a Skid Row health assessment center, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
Since the arrests, people at a Skid Row homeless shelter have noticed less suspicious traffic in the area. Orlando Ward, a spokesman for the Midnight Mission homeless shelter, said he often saw vans that used to circle the neighborhood looking for would-be patients.
Assistant United States Attorney Vince Farhat said the government’s investigation into a wider problem is ongoing.
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Associated Press Writer
Saturday December 13, 2008, 3:36 am EST