- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A former hospital executive pleaded guilty Wednesday to paying recruiters who brought in homeless people for unnecessary medical treatment in a scheme to collect millions of dollars from government health programs.

Dante Nicholson, 51, is among at least four people charged in the recruiting scheme at City of Angels Medical Center, where he served as senior vice president. He faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to two counts of paying illegal kickbacks. He also agreed to pay more than $4.1 million in restitution to the federal government.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Vince Farhat said Nicholson was the liaison between the recruiters and other hospital executives between 2004 to 2007.

Under a plea agreement, Nicholson admitted he paid recruiters to find homeless people from downtown’s Skid Row for unneeded inpatient hospital stays. Prosecutors said the center then charged Medicare and Medi-Cal for the services.

As part of the scheme, City of Angels entered into sham “consulting” contracts to conceal the illegal kickbacks, prosecutors said.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Farhat told The Associated Press. “We’re looking at other people and other schemes involving patient recruitment. We anticipate that further charges will be brought.”

Nicholson and Robert Bourseau, the hospital’s former co-owner, were indicted in January and were originally charged with 13 counts. Bourseau remains in custody as he awaits trial.

The hospital’s former chief executive, Dr. Rudra Sabaratnam, pleaded guilty last year to bilking Medicare and Medi-Cal of $4.1 million from 2004 to 2007. The recruiter, Estill Mitts, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

The indictment was the product of an investigation into a scheme in which hospital officials paid the recruiter $500,000 over three years to find homeless people who were paid $100 or less.

Nicholson will be sentenced Aug. 17.

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