One thing’s for certain, it will be no more walk in the park for the seven defendants convicted for their roles in a bribe and kickback scheme related to referring patients to Forest Park Hospital, a now defunct chain of Texas facilities.
Well, I suppose those defendants sentenced to time in federal prison will still get a walk in the yard, as in the prison yard, but that’s not even in the same universe.
Forest Park was a chain of beautifully constructed facilities. However, beneath the veneer of great architecture and beautiful interior design was, so federal prosecutors alleged, a decrepit scheme involving questionable marketing agreements and multiple types of fake arrangements from “consulting contracts” to “leases” and even fake companies.
The alleged aim? Referrals of well-insured patients to the out-of-network facility.
Last week, on April 9, 2019, the jury in the Forest Park bribery and kickback trial in federal court in Dallas found seven of the nine defendants guilty. At issue were multiple charges, from violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute to money laundering.
The government contended that Forest Park took in $200 million and paid out $40 million in kickbacks.
Among those indicted were physicians, hospital executives, and alleged intermediaries in the trail of funds.
The following physicians were convicted on April 9:
- Spine surgeon Shawn Henry, D.O.
- Spine surgeon Michael Rimlawi, D.O.
- Pain management physician Mike Shah, M.D.
- Spine surgeon Douglas Won, M.D.
So, too, were Forest Park’s co-administrator Mac Burt, Jackson Jacob, the owner of companies through which Forest Park channeled payments to physicians, and a nurse and workers’ compensation insurance consultant, Iris Forrest.
The easiest (and most gratuitous) takeaway is that kickbacks are illegal. But, you already know that, at least in concept. So, in a sense, it’s not very helpful advice.
What’s far more important to note is the need for caution, extreme caution, whenever entering into any sort of financial relationship with someone or some entity with whom you share a referral relationship, no matter which way the referrals flow.
For example, some of the allegations in the Forest Park case centered around the payment of “marketing money” from the facility to physicians. Some naïvely believe that marketing money from a hospital to physicians is not something that should concern significant anti-kickback scrutiny. Wrong.
Additionally, Forest Park shows that even convoluted payments through “money drop” entities, even ones that look like a game of Chutes and Ladders, can be un-woven. And, as a double take away for you, they can be un-woven by other participants in a scheme such as the former Forest Park Chief Operating Officer and a physician/investor/founder who both previously pleaded out and cooperated with the authorities in convicting their fellow schemers.
One can assume that all or nearly all of the now convicted men and women had counsel advise them on the propriety of their arrangements. So, when someone tells you the deal is okay because their attorney vetted it, don’t be so sure. Make sure that the person advising you not only has knowledge, but also a good dose of common sense.
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Mark F. Weiss