Ok — this is a bit ugly — Ex-Hospital COO Indicted In Dental Program Bribery Scheme

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — The schemes described in a federal indictment against former MetroHealth executive Edward Hills and three former hospital dentists undertook were complex, intertwined and lasted for years.

They also involved about $250,000, much of which was taxpayer money. Meanwhile, Hills was being paid increasingly larger six-figure salaries for his work at the hospital system.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office laid out its accusations in a 93-page indictment unsealed Tuesday, following the arrest of Hills and dentists Sari Alqsous, Yazan Al-Madani and Tariq Sayegh. The charges say the men steered MetroHealth clients and resources toward their private businesses and forced prospective residents to pay them bribes in exchange for preferential treatment.

All four entered not-guilty pleas at their arraignments.

The case is the culmination of an investigation that lasted more than two years and was headed by the FBI and IRS. It involves a series of cooperating witnesses. Federal prosecutors have not said whether others will face charges.

Former MetroHealth System executive Edward Hills and three dentists were arrested Tuesday morning following a grand jury’s indictment in a racketeering and corruption case involving the hospital’s Department of Oral Health and Dentistry.

Below you will find the breakdowns of the schemes in which Hills, Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh are accused. All of the information is either based on the indictment or was verified through interviews and records.

Benefits to Hills and the dentists

Beginning in 2009, Alqsous, Al-Makani and others gave Hills bribes. They referred to the illegal payments as “thing,” “something,” “fundraisers” or “presents” and would try to tie them to Hills’ birthday or the holiday season, the indictment says.

Talk of bribes would often come while Hills, Alqsous and Al-Makani texted each other about making plans to go to upscale restaurants or, on at least one occasion, a strip club in Bedford, the indictment says.

In a series of messages, the indictment shows that Alqsous would text Hills and tell him that “got a little something for u” or “I told the guys about the fundraising …” The indictment says that after certain text exchanges, money would be deposited into Hills’ bank account.

In one text message, Alqsous tells Al-Madani and another dentist that “With 22nd of October approaching we ll be celebrating Dr hills bday earlier this year…1000 dollars each that is the gift from the 3 sons their father,” the indictment says.

Hills also accepted use of an apartment at Landmark Perry Payne in Cleveland’s Warehouse District. Alqsous rented the apartment and allowed Hills to use it with a woman with whom he had a relationship. Alqsous even purchased furniture after Hills made a request, according to the indictment.

He stated in a 2013 text to Hills that “I bought your bedroom yesterday … there is mirrors everywhere … you will like it,” the indictment says.

He also accepted airplane tickets for he and the woman, as well as prescriptions from Alqsous, according to the indictment.

When Hills took over as interim CEO of the hospital, he told Alqsous, Al-Madani and others that he wanted a Louis Vuitton briefcase because his predecessor had a similar briefcase. The dentists bought him one at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beachwood for $3,879, according to the indictment.

Subordinates also bought him a $3,000 55-inch LED television from Best Buy for Christmas in December 2013, court documents say. They also purchased an Apple laptop for Hills’ female friend.

In exchange for all of this, Alqsous, Al-Madani and others received more than $92,000 in extra bonuses from MetroHealth. Hills also let Alqsous and Al-Madani work part-time hours but remain as full-time hospital employees, the indictment says.

Free labor from dental residents

In 2009, an unnamed person, labeled in the indictment as a cooperating witness, reached out to Hills to see if the executive could help provide dentists for Noble Dental Clinic in East Cleveland, which he owned at the time and later turned over to Alqsous and Al-Madani, prosecutors say.

Hills and the person agreed that several MetroHealth dental residents, including Alqsous and Al-Madani, would practice at the clinic on a part-time basis. He told the dentist to pay him and his company Oral Health Enrichment the wages owed to Alqsous and Al-Madani instead of paying them directly, according to the indictment.

Alqsous and Al-Madani were not licensed to practice at a private firm, and were using MetroHealth’s malpractice insurance. Hills also sent later dentists to work at Noble and Buckeye Family Dental, another office operated by Alqsous and Al-Madani, the indictment shows.

Bribes from prospective dental residents

Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani served as attending dentists at MetroHealth between 2008 and 2014. With that title came influence on who was admitted into the hospital system’s resident program, according to the indictment.

The three served on panels interviewing potential residents and selected candidates who were from Jordan or trained at a Jordanian dental school in order to obtain bribes. Alqsous and Sayegh told potential residents that they would have to pay a “donation” to MetroHealth in order to receive favorable consideration. They then told the candidates to pay them directly, according to the indictment.

The trio sometimes touted their access to Hills to show they had power. Alqsous and Sayegh sometimes said some of the money would go to Hills. If a candidate did not give them bribes, and they were still hired, Alqsous tried to make them work extra hours, weekends without pay or tried to fire them altogether, according to the indictment.

The bribes totaled at least $75,000, prosecutors said.

Oral Health Enrichment

In 2009, as Hills was at the end of his tenure on the Ohio State Dental Board, he prepared to open Oral Health Enrichment, a Woodmere company that specialized in remedial training for dentists found to have committed wrongdoing. He used his connections in Ohio, Kentucky and Texas to find clients and operated it using MetroHealth resources, the indictment states.

He offered to pay “referral fees” for dental board employees who sent clients to his company, according to the indictment.

On January 27, 2009, he and a woman referred to as “Public Employee 1” added Oral Health Enrichment to the list of providers for remedial training in Ohio. “Public Employee 1” is believed to be Lili Reitz, the former executive director of the dental board. She has not been criminally charged.

Dental care to an attorney          

In July 2009, the Deer Island of Walden Condominium Association in Aurora, where Hills lived, filed a foreclosure lawsuit against Edward Hills and his wife, Carla Hills, for failing to pay association fees. Hills hired an attorney whom he had also seen as a patient.

The indictment does not name the attorney, but Portage County court records show that Anthony Jordan, a former Cleveland city prosecutor and candidate for Cleveland Municipal Court judge in 2015, represented Hills in the lawsuit.

Before and after the lawsuit was filed, Hills and other ordered crowns, veneers and implants for the attorney. A witness, labeled in the indictment as a cooperating witness, created a treatment plan for the attorney. Hills told the dentist to claim that the treatment for the attorney was “educational” so the attorney would not have to pay for it, court records say.

The attorney received surgical dental implants on Sept. 21, 2009. This treatment continued through April 2011, as he received implants, crowns and other services from the unnamed dentist, as well as Alqsous and other dentists, the indictment says.

MetroHealth did not get paid for the dental work, and Hills told the attorney to pay him directly, according to court records. The hospital system lost $24,000 as a result.

Jordan did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

Kickbacks for Medicaid patients

Hills, Al-Madani, Alqsous and others devised a scheme to solicit kickbacks for referring Medicaid recipients to Alqsous and Al-Madani’s private dental offices, prosecutors said.

Specifically, Alqsous and Al-Madani paid Hills more than $1,000 on several occasions to obtain the patients. On bank accounts they referred to the money as “consultation fees” or “profession fees,” the indictment says.

According to prosecutors, Hills received more than $17,600 in kickbacks.

When the MetroHealth and the FBI began investigating, the defendants referred to the payments as “repayments on loans,” even though no known loans existed, according to the indictment.

Trying to obstruct justice

In May 2014, Hills became aware of the federal criminal investigation. He, Alqsous, Al-Madani and others then worked to hide information from the FBI, IRS and the grand jury, prosecutors said. The trio told people to not cooperate with law enforcement, the indictment says.

Al-Madani told one dentist that they should not discuss the bribery conduct with the FBI or else they could be deported, court records say. Hills told Alqsous, Al-Madani and another dentist to tell the FBI that the television and other items he received were gifts. He said to say he initially refused to accept the TV but that they insisted because of their “Middle Eastern culture,” according to the indictment.

Hills, in a conversation with Alqsous, Al-Madani and a dentist who cooperated with prosecutors, said that “the s— we got ourselves in this year is because motherf—— running they mouth snitching …”, the indictment says.

According to the indictment, he told them to stick together.

This story has been updated to clarify what prosecutors say is the extent of Sayegh’s involvement.

Content retrieved from: http://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/index.ssf/2016/10/the_many_schemes_of_four_denti.html

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