President of New Jersey Clinical Laboratory, Six Salesmen Admit Bribing Doctors for More Than $100 Million in Test Referrals
|U.S. Attorney’s Office June 10, 2013|
NEWARK, NJ—The president of Parsippany, New Jersey-based Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services LLC (BLS), three BLS employees, and three associates admitted today to a conspiracy in which millions of dollars in bribes were paid to physicians over a number of years in exchange for blood sample referrals worth more than $100 million to the company, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Each of the seven defendants—David Nicoll, 39, of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey; Scott Nicoll, 32, of Wayne, New Jersey; Cliff Antell, 38, of Rumson, New Jersey; Luke Chicco, 40, of Garden City, New York; Doug Hurley, 33, of Hillsborough, New Jersey; Kevin Kerekes, 47, of Florham Park, New Jersey; and Craig Nordman, 34, of Whippany, New Jersey—pleaded guilty to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Federal Travel Act and one count of money laundering. The defendants entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler in Newark federal court.
“Today seven men, including the president of a diagnostic lab, admitted to a conspiracy making more than $100 million in illegal income from business brought through bribes,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman. “Individual greed has no place in a treatment plan, and people seeking medical help deserve to know a doctor’s recommendations are based on professional expertise, not illicit profits. Today is an important step, but we aren’t finished holding criminals responsible for this conspiracy or who break the law to put profits over patients.”
“Health care fraud is a serious crime which impacts all Americans, either directly or indirectly, by inflating costs in the health care system,” said Newark FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford. “In this day and age when health care is a daily topic of discussion, the Newark Office of the FBI remains dedicated and committed to combating fraud throughout the health care system. This investigation and these pleas entered today represent a tremendous effort by law enforcement to stem the tide of pay to play in health care in New Jersey.”
“Financial inducements, little more than bribes, must never interfere with proper medical care,” said Tom O’Donnell, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services region including New Jersey. “We will tirelessly pursue criminals greedily manipulating public health care programs serving vulnerable Americans.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
On April 9, 2013, federal agents arrested BLS president and part owner, David Nicoll; Scott Nicoll, a senior BLS employee and David Nicoll’s brother; and Nordman, a BLS employee and the CEO of Advantech Sales LLC—an entity used by BLS to make illegal payments. They were then charged by federal complaint with the bribery conspiracy, along with the BLS company and New Jersey physician Frank Santangelo, 43, of Boonton, New Jersey. The charges against BLS and Santangelo remain pending.
Hurley, also a BLS employee, and associates Antell, Chicco, and Kerekes surrendered today to the FBI.
The conspiracy made millions in illegal profits between 2006 and April 2013. During their guilty pleas, David and Scott Nicoll admitted that BLS made substantially more than $100 million from Medicare and private insurance companies—just from bills related to blood specimens sent to BLS by bribed doctors.
Statements during today’s pleas also detailed the means through which BLS paid doctors millions of dollars—in cash or under the guise of sham lease, service, and consulting agreements through an elaborate network of shell entities used for that purpose. The defendants also admitted that one component of the bribery scheme was to pay some doctors a fee per test to induce them to increase their ordering of certain tests.
In one text message conversation between Santangelo and David Nicoll detailed in filed documents, Santangelo stated that he and another doctor had “put our heads together and added a significant amount of testing....The testing is 90 percent legit.” The documents allege Santangelo planned to send $1 million per month in blood testing referrals to BLS by increasing the number of blood tests being ordered, including medically unnecessary tests.
Those who pleaded guilty today each face a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the bribery conspiracy charge and 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine on the money laundering charge, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. In addition, David and Scott Nicoll have agreed to forfeit $50 million and $25 million to the United States, respectively. The other five defendants will forfeit amounts ranging between $800,000 and $1.3 million. Sentencing for all seven defendants is scheduled for September 11, 2013.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ford; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge O’Donnell; IRS–Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Acting Inspector in Charge Maria Kelokates, with the ongoing investigation leading to today’s guilty pleas.
The government is represented by Senior Litigation Counsel Andrew Leven and Deputy Chief Jacob T. Elberg of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Ward of the office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.
The charges and allegations against Santangelo and BLS are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.