Doctor admits kickback role in sending homeless people to nursing homes, hospitals

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A California physician received kickbacks from skilled nursing facilities as part of a large-scale scheme to defraud government health programs, authorities announced Friday. Ovid Mercene, M.D., pleaded guilty to the fraud and related tax charges in U.S. District Court.

The scheme involved bringing homeless inhabitants of Los Angeles' Skid Row neighborhood to a hospital, where Mercene admitted them to a floor that was separate from other patients, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. These homeless individuals underwent unnecessary tests and some were subsequently transferred to a skilled nursing facility, even though they did not require that type of care.

Mercene billed Medicare and Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, more than $1.8 million for the services provided the homeless patients at the hospital or SNF, authorities said. He also received about $700,000 in kickbacks from the SNFs.

Investigators did not name the hospital or SNFs, saying that the case is ongoing.

Mercene's sentencing is scheduled for July 21.