Physician sentenced to prison for kickback scheme that sent homeless people to nursing homes

A former California doctor was sentenced Monday to 15 months in prison for his role in a fraud scheme that referred homeless people for hospital and skilled nursing care they didn't need.

Between 2008 and 2012 Ovid Mercene, M.D., admitted several people, many of whom were homeless, to a local hospital for unnecessary treatment. Mercene billed Medicare and the Medi-Cal program more than $1.8 million for the treatments; he ultimately was paid $850,000 for the claims he submitted.

After the patient's' stay in the hospital Mercene would discharge them to skilled nursing facilities even though they did not qualify for skilled care, City News Services reported. In exchange for his referrals Mercene received $700,000 from the skilled nursing providers.

In addition to his prison sentence, Mercene must serve a year of supervised release, and pay $1.4 million in restitution to Medicare, Medi-Cal and the Internal Revenue Service.

A California nursing home and two physicians who worked there agreed to pay $3.5 million in September to resolve allegations that they were involved with the “Skid Row” scheme.