A Georgia man has been charged with conspiring to defraud federal and private health benefit programs by submitting false claims for coronavirus tests, the Justice Department said Monday.
Erik Santos, 49, of Braselton, Georgia, is charged with one count of conspiring to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute and one count of conspiring to commit health care fraud. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on both counts.
Mr. Santos is scheduled to appear in Atlanta federal court later Monday.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Santos had been receiving kickbacks on a per-test basis for submitting genetic cancer screening tests to diagnostic facilities regardless of medical need.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Mr. Santos expanded the scheme to “capitalize on a national emergency for his own financial gain,” prosecutors wrote.
Court documents do not identify who was paying Mr. Santos the alleged kickbacks.
“Santos sought to maximize his kickback profits and to bleed federal health care resources at a time when Medicare beneficiaries across the United States were in dire need of coverage for medical treatment and services,” Craig Carpenito, U.S. attorney for New Jersey said in a statement.
The charges were filed in a federal court in Newark, New Jersey.
Mr. Santos agreed to be paid kickbacks for the COVID-19 tests, provided those tests were bundled with more expensive cancer tests, which do not identify or treat COVID-19, prosecutors said. Those tests were then submitted to health benefit programs for reimbursement, according to court documents.
On a March 19 phone call, Mr. Santos explained to an informant that he viewed the coronavirus as a chance to make money, prosecutors said. He even put his other work on hold to “chase the Covid dollar bird,” according to court filings.
“While there are people going through what they are going through, you can either go bankrupt or you can prosper,” Mr. Santos said during the call, according to prosecutors.
Mr. Santos is the second person to face federal charges since the coronavirus pandemic began. Last week, the Justice Department charged actor Lawrence Middlebrook with allegedly selling a phony coronavirus vaccine on social media.