NEWARK, N.J. – A Pennsylvania doctor today admitted participating in two conspiracies to receive bribes and kickbacks in exchange for ordering genetic tests, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced.
Lee Besen, 65, of Waverly, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to an information charging him with two counts of conspiring to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute.
Besen is the fourth defendant to plead guilty in bribery and kickback schemes involving doctors and medical employees in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, area.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Besen was a primary care physician with an office in the Scranton area. In 2018, he began accepting monthly cash kickbacks and bribes in exchange for collecting DNA samples from Medicare patients and sending them for genetic tests to clinical laboratories in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The cash kickbacks ranged from $500 to over $8,000. Besen typically accepted the cash inside his office, at times behind locked doors.
When Besen did not receive his kickback and bribe payments, the volume of genetic tests he ordered dipped. When he accepted those payments, that volume typically increased because, as Besen said in a recorded conversation, “Greenbacks speak.” Besen was also recorded discussing the kickback and bribe payments as “vigs” – slang for fees collected by bookies.
Besen frequently sought ways to make more money. At one point, he proposed adding to the scheme by collecting “CGx” cancer screening tests from Medicare patients, sending the tests to a new lab, and then splitting lucrative sales commissions that the lab paid out – ranging up to $2,500 per test. Although Besen had not previously ordered CGx tests for any of his patients, once he realized there was money to be made, he said in a recording that his office was “totally open now for CGx.” He was also recorded saying that he hoped the money he made from CGx tests would help him “retire early.”
Even as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic substantially reduced in-patient visits, Besen worked with his staff to generate more genetic tests from Medicare patients. Before one illicit payoff that Besen accepted in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, he was recorded making veiled threats and expressing concern about being caught on camera accepting kickbacks and bribes. Despite such concerns, he followed through with the meeting because, as he was recorded saying, he wanted to collect “greenbacks” for his “pool house.”
Besen enlisted his employee, Kimberly Schmidt, who, in exchange for cash kickbacks and bribes, helped prepare paperwork for the genetic tests. Schmidt has previously pleaded guilty for her role in the scheme and is awaiting sentencing.
As a result of the scheme, Medicare paid $350,374 for genetic tests generated from Besen’s medical practice.
Separately, Besen and Terri Haines, of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, entered into a different kickback and bribery scheme involving “health fairs.” Haines was not a health care provider, but made a living soliciting and collecting CGx genetic screening tests from Medicare patients at health fairs, and then sending those tests to a lab in exchange for commissions. She was not authorized to order those CGx tests without a doctor’s sign-off. Haines paid Besen a kickback and bribe to use his name and medical credentials to order CGx tests for the Medicare patients she met at fairs, even though Besen never actually attended any of the health fairs and never met the patients for whom the genetic tests were ordered. Medicare paid $713,882 for CGx genetic tests that resulted from this scheme.
Each conspiracy charge is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss derived from the offense, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for July 6, 2021.
Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez in Newark; and special agents of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Regional Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Maureen R. Dixon, with the investigation leading to the charges. She also thanked the FBI Scranton Field Office, FBI Philadelphia Division, and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office for their assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua L. Haber of the Health Care Fraud Unit and Acting Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal.
The charges and allegations against Haines are merely accusations, and she is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Defense counsel: Lawrence S. Lustberg Esq., Newark