2 former Sacred Heart executives plead guilty to roll in kickback scheme

The former COO at Sacred Heart Hospital in Chicago, Anthony Puorro, and Noemi Velgara, the hospital's former vice president of geriatric services, have pleaded guilty to their involvement in a kickback scheme, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

In April 2013, federal authorities arrested Sacred Heart's owner and CEO, Edward Novak, along with the hospital's CFO and four physicians for their alleged participation in a kickback scheme for Medicare and Medicaid referrals. After the arrests, CMS suspended its reimbursement to Sacred Heart, and the hospital closed in July 2013.

In October 2013, Mr. Puorro and Ms. Velgara were indicted with the rest of the defendants in the case. However, a court filing revealed both had cooperated with the federal investigation, including wearing recorders to tape conversations, which led to Mr. Novak's arrest.

On Dec. 23, both Mr. Puorro and Ms. Velgara entered into a plea deal with prosecutors, which involved each of them pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and receive kickbacks, according to the report.

Mr. Puorro admitted he kept records of the patients each physician was referring to Sacred Heart in exchange for kickbacks. He admitted he sometimes delivered the kickback checks to the physicians involved in the scheme. Mr. Puorro also admitted the hospital had a deal with an ambulance company, which involved patients being transported to Sacred Heart even though other hospitals were closer.

Prosecutors plan to recommend a five year prison sentence for Mr. Puorro and a two year sentence for Ms. Velgara, according to the report.

Mr. Novak and several other former executives from Sacred Heart are set to go to trial Jan. 26.

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