Doctor Sentenced To Six Months In Prison For Taking Cash Kickbacks For Patient Referrals

NEWARK – A Somerset County doctor practicing internal medicine at Newark Community Health Center, where she was formerly the clinical director, was sentenced Thursday to six months in prison and five months of home confinement for receiving cash kickbacks for diagnostic testing referrals of her patients, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Padma Siripurapu, 46, of Belle Mead, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi to one count of soliciting and receiving more than $50,000 in illegal cash kickbacks for patient referrals in violation of the federal health care anti-kickback statute.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From 2009 through December 2011, Siripurapu agreed with representatives of the diagnostic center Orange Community MRI LLC (Orange MRI) that Orange MRI would pay her a set amount of cash for every MRI, CAT scan, ultrasound, echocardiogram, and DEXA scan she referred. Siripurapu referred patients for more than a thousand of these tests during that time period and was paid a per-test amount for those referrals.

Siripurapu admitted that on Nov. 2, 2011, she received $3,600 in cash from a government informant at her doctor’s office in Newark in exchange for referrals. On Nov. 17, 2011, again at her office in Newark, Siripurapu received another kickback for patient referrals, this time $3,450 in cash.

In addition to the prison term and home confinement, Cecchi sentenced Siripurapu to two years of supervised release, fined her $30,000 and ordered her to pay forfeiture of $51,200.

Siripurapu is the 12th person in the government’s investigation of Orange MRI and its corrupt referring doctors to plead guilty. On Oct. 15, a 13th defendant, Chikezie Onyenso, 55, an internist and pediatrician with a medical practice in Irvington, was convicted by a jury of conspiring to violate the federal health care anti-kickback statute and with violating the statute in connection with the same money-for-patients scheme. Onyenso took tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for patient referrals. The jury deliberated for two days after a three-week trial before Cecchi. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 31, 2014.

Ten health care providers have pleaded guilty to receiving kickbacks and have agreed to forfeit $339,905 in illegal kickbacks from Orange MRI. The two other defendants, Ashokkumar Babaria, Orange MRI’s former medical director, and Chirag Patel, Orange MRI’s former executive director, have agreed to forfeit their corrupt gains. Babaria agreed to forfeit his revenues traceable to corrupt referrals, which the government has estimated could reach as much as $2 million. Patel has forfeited $89,180. The remaining defendants charged in the investigation are charged by complaints or indictments at this time.

Fishman credited special agents of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Tom O’Donnell, as well as criminal investigators with the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s criminal investigator program, for the investigation leading to the sentencing.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Scott B. McBride and Joseph Mack, deputy chief, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Health Care and Government Fraud Unit.

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