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Lab Owner Pleads Guilty to $73M Scheme to Defraud Medicare

NEW YORK – The US Department of Justice announced on Wednesday a Florida man has pleaded guilty to his role in a $73 million scheme to defraud Medicare.

According to the DOJ, the scheme involved paying kickbacks to a telemedicine company in exchange for authorizations by doctors for medically unnecessary genetic testing. The scheme, the department added, "exploited" temporary amendments to telehealth restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic meant to ease access to care for Medicare recipients.

Leonel Palatnik of Aventura, a co-owner of Panda Conservation Group, has admitted to conspiring with other co-owners, as well as Michael Stein, the owner of 1523 Holdings to pay kickbacks to Stein, who arranged with telemedicine providers to authorize genetic testing for Panda's laboratories. Stein and Panda's owners entered into a "sham contract" for purported IT and consultation services to disguise the real purpose of the payments, the DOJ said. 1523 Holdings then exploited temporary amendments to telehealth restrictions by offering telehealth providers access to Medicare recipients. The consultants billed the beneficiaries for consultations, while the providers agreed to refer the beneficiaries to Panda's labs for unnecessary genetic testing for cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Palatnik pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to offer kickbacks and one count of paying a kickback. He is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 9 and could face up to 15 years in prison.

The DOJ noted that the case against Palatnik was brought as part of the COVID-19 Health Care Fraud coordinated law enforcement action in May against 14 defendants in seven judicial districts.