TRENTON, N.J. – Two California men today admitted to participating in a conspiracy to broker patients as part of a multi-state patient scheme in which one of them directed recruiters to bribe drug-addicted individuals to enroll in drug rehabilitation and the other paid referral fees from his rehabilitation center in exchange for those patient referrals, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Kevin M. Dickau, 32, of Tustin, California, and Dr. Akikur Mohammad, 57, of West Hills, California, each pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan. Dickau pleaded guilty to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Mohammad pleaded guilty to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to violate the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act (EKRA).
EKRA, enacted by Congress in October 2018 as part of a broader package of legislation aimed at combatting the opioid crisis, bars the payment of kickbacks in exchange for the referral of patients to drug treatment facilities. Mohammad’s EKRA conviction is among the first such convictions in the country using the new charge.
Three other individuals have previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme: Peter Costas, of Red Bank, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud in May 2020; Seth Logan Welsh, of Forest Hill, Maryland, and John C. Devlin, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty to the same charge on Sept. 8, 2020.
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:
Dickau, Welsh, Devlin, and their conspirators owned and operated a marketing company in California. Dickau, Welsh, and Devlin used the marketing company to help orchestrate a scheme in New Jersey, Maryland, California, and other states that involved bribing individuals addicted to heroin and other drugs to enter into drug rehabilitation centers so Welsh, Devlin, and their conspirators could generate referral fees from those facilities. One facility in California that paid such referral fees was owned and operated by Mohammad.
The marketing company run by Dickau, Welsh, and Devlin maintained contractual relationships with drug treatment facilities around the country, including the one run by Mohammad. The marketing company also engaged a nationwide network of recruiters – including Costas in New Jersey – to identify and recruit potential patients, from New Jersey and other states, who were addicted to heroin or other drugs and who had robust private health insurance.
To convince drug-addicted individuals to travel to and enroll in rehabilitation when they otherwise would not have, Costas and other recruiters offered to bribe them – often as much as several thousand dollars – with the approval of Dickau, Welsh, and Devlin. Once the patients agreed to enroll in drug rehabilitation in exchange for the offered bribe, Dickau, Welsh, Devlin, and Costas would arrange and pay for cross-country travel to the drug treatment centers in California and other states, in concert with the owners of the facilities themselves, including Mohammad. Costas would stay in touch with the New Jersey patients at the facilities and specifically instruct them to stay at the facilities long enough to generate referral payments, and he would pass along information to Dickau, Welsh, and Devlin about the patients’ status at the facilities. Dickau, Welsh, and Devlin would monitor the other patients they brokered by speaking to other recruiters or to the owners and employees of the drug treatment facilities themselves.
Mohammad’s drug treatment facility had a contract with the marketing company. Mohammad’s facility and other facilities typically paid the marketing company a fee of $5,000 to $10,000 per patient referral. Dickau, Welsh, Devlin, and their conspirators divvied that money among themselves. Costas and other recruiters received approximately half that amount for each patient they brokered. Dickau, Welsh, Devlin, and their conspirators brokered scores of patients to drug treatment facilities around the country, including the one run by Mohammad, and the conspiracy caused millions of dollars of losses for health insurers.
For example, on Jan. 24, 2019, Mohammad, Welsh, and Dickau had a text message conversation in which Dickau sent a patient’s biographical and health insurance information to Mohammad to see if Mohammad would accept the patient at his drug treatment facility. After confirming that the patient had adequate health insurance benefits, Mohammad accepted the patient for admission to his drug treatment facility. The patient enrolled at Mohammad’s drug treatment facility soon after, and Mohammad billed a commercial insurance company over $70,000 for purported services rendered to the patient. The following month. Mohammad paid the marketing company a referral payment of $5,000 for referring the patient.
In a telephone conversation on March 14, 2019, Mohammad and Welsh discussed kickbacks for referrals for two patients sent to Mohammad’s drug treatment facility. During the call, Mohammad and Welsh discussed how long each patient stayed at Mohammad’s drug treatment facility, and they agreed that Mohammad would pay Dickau and Welsh a kickback for the two patient referrals. On the same day, Mohammad wrote a check to the marketing company for $10,000.
Dickau faces a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Mohammad faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing for both defendants is scheduled for Jan. 20, 2021.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty pleas. He also thanked the FBI, under the direction of Acting Assistant Director in Charge John F. Bennett in Los Angeles, California and the District Attorney’s Office in Orange County, California.
The government is represented by Senior Trial Counsel Jason S. Gould of the Health Care Fraud Unit in Newark.