A Florida owner of multiple diagnostic testing labs was sentenced today in the Southern District of Florida to 82 months in prison for plotting to defraud the United States and pay and receive kickbacks using waivers introduced to restrict access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to court documents, Leonel Palatnik, 42, of Aventura, as the co-owner of Panda Conservation Group LLC (Panda), conspired with other co-owners of the company and with Michael Stein, the owner of 1523 Holdings LLC, to pay illegal bribe to Stein in return for his work arranging telemedicine suppliers to authorize genetic testing orders for Panda’s labs. 1523 Holdings and Panda then took advantage of temporary changes to telehealth restrictions introduced during the pandemic, which were intended to expand access to care for Medicare recipients by making it easier for beneficiaries to receive needed medical care from home. receive. Palatnik and his co-conspirators took advantage of these waivers by using telehealth providers to authorize thousands of medically unnecessary cancer and cardiovascular genetic tests. In return, Panda gave these providers access to beneficiary information and the ability to charge for alleged telehealth consultations with Medicare recipients, which often did not happen. On August 31, Palatnik pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud and offer bribes to the United States and one count of paying bribes.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. from the Criminal Division of the Ministry of Justice; Acting Deputy Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Department; and Special Representative Omar Pérez Aybar of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) made the announcement.
The FBI’s Miami and Dallas Field Offices and HHS-OIG are investigating the case, with assistance from the FBI’s Healthcare Rapid Response Team.
National Rapid Response Strike Force Attorney Ligia Markman is pursuing the case.
The case against Palatnik was brought on May 26 as part of the Covid-19 Health Care Fraud coordinated law enforcement action against 14 defendants in seven judicial districts. Palatnik was charged along with Stein, who is currently awaiting trial. The law enforcement action was instituted in coordination with the Covid-19 Interagency Working Group of the Health Care Fraud Unit, which is chaired by the National Rapid Response Strike Force and which organizes efforts to tackle illegal activities related to health care programs during the pandemic.
The Fraud Section leads the Criminal Division’s efforts to combat health care fraud through the Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program. Since March 2007, this program, which consists of 15 strike forces operating in 24 federal districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed more than $19 billion to the Medicare program. In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to hold health care providers accountable for their involvement in health care fraud schemes. More information can be found at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/health-care-fraud-unit.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to pool the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with government agencies to strengthen efforts to fight and prevent pandemic fraud. The Task Force is strengthening efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assist agencies charged with managing emergency programs to prevent fraud, including by expanding and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, resources and identifying techniques to detect fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and leveraging information and insights gained from past enforcement efforts. To learn more about the department’s response to the pandemic, visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud with COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or using the NCDF web complaint form at https: //www. justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
An indictment is only an allegation, and Stein is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.