A Rockaway couple will spend years in federal prison after being sentenced Tuesday for forging physicians’ signatures on at least 10,500 MRIs, ultrasounds, echocardiograms and other diagnostic tests that the physicians never saw.
Kirtish N. Patel, 54, and his wife, Nita K. Patel, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge William H. Walls, who was appalled at the scheme.
“I am still mystified and, in a certain sense, frightened by the crime that you and your husband committed,” Walls told Nita Patel. “The risk that you imposed on people who had done you no wrong… is frightening and scary.”
Both Patels pleaded guilty to one count of health care fraud last year. Court records show that they operated two mobile diagnostic companies that traveled to primary care physicians’ offices to administer tests, which then were supposed to be sent to an outside physician to interpret.
But rather than pay that physician, Kirtish Patel, who is not a physician, would read the test and Nita Patel would forge a physician’s signature, court records show. They then billed Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies from 2006 through 2014, when they were charged. Former employees alerted investigators to the scheme, court records say.
In court, Kirtish Patel, the owner of Biosound Medical Services, said he didn’t mean to cause anyone harm. He said he began forging the records to expedite their return to the referring physicians. Patel said he did not send the diagnostic tests for a physician’s observation if he was unsure of the reading, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Walsman.
But based on the number of fraudulent returns, Patel took the view that “if he had seen one ultrasound, he had seen them all,” Walsman said.
Dr. Paresh Patel admitted accepting $174,000 in kickbacks for referring patient testing to Biosound Medical Services.
She also said Patel’s earlier statements that no one was harmed by the scheme showed that he had not accepted full responsibility for the crime.
Walls agreed, rejecting a defense request for a lighter sentence.
Walls also noted that the Patels’ operation was not a mistake — that it was behavior repeated over and over for years. The couple was able to buy luxury automobiles and a $1.5 million home with cash, he said.
Nita Patel, 53, was the owner of Heart Solutions, which was based with Biosound Medical Services in Parsippany. She asked Walls for forgiveness and said the couple lost their main income and friends. “We don’t have anything left,” she said.
Walls accepted her statements of responsibility for the crime and sentenced her to 78 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
Because he was unconvinced Kirtish Patel had accepted his responsibility, Walls sentenced him to 100 months — more than eight years, also to be followed by three years of supervised release.
In addition, he ordered both Patels to make restitution of $4.8 million to be divided by the insurers and the government based on the number of tests for which they paid.
In a separate civil action, the Patels were ordered to pay $5 million in damages and $2.5 million in penalties for the scheme.
Walls also allowed both of them to remain out of prison until Oct. 17 so that Kirtish Patel and care for Nita Patel, who is undergoing surgery on Thursday related to breast cancer.