Sacramento Area Home Healthcare and Hospice Agencies Owner Sentenced to 25 Months in Prison for Conspiring to Defraud Medicare
Akop Atoyan, 51, of Glendale, was sentenced to 25 months in prison for one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
In addition, Atoyan was ordered to pay $2,525,363 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and to forfeit that same amount to the United States.
According to court documents, Atoyan and his wife, Liana Karapetyan, owned and controlled home healthcare and hospice agencies in the greater Sacramento area: ANG Health Care Inc., Excel Home Healthcare Inc., and Excel Hospice Inc. On behalf of the agencies, Atoyan and Karapetyan certified to Medicare that they would not pay kickbacks in exchange for Medicare beneficiary referrals to the agencies.
Despite their certifications, from at least July 2015 through April 2019, Atoyan and Karapetyan paid and directed others to pay kickbacks to multiple individuals for beneficiary referrals, including employees of health care facilities, as well as employees’ spouses. The kickback recipients included John Eby, a registered nurse who worked for a hospital in Sacramento; Anita Vijay, the director of social services at a skilled nursing and assisted living facility in Sacramento; Jai Vijay, Anita Vijay’s husband; and Mariela Panganiban, the director of social services at a skilled nursing facility in Roseville.
In total, Atoyan, Karapetyan, and others caused the agencies to submit over 8,000 claims to Medicare for the cost of home health care and hospice services. Based on those claims, Medicare paid the agencies approximately $31 million. Of that amount, Medicare paid the agencies at least $2.5 million for services purportedly provided to beneficiaries referred in exchange for kickbacks paid to, among others, Eby, Anita Vijay, Jai Vijay, and Panganiban. Because the agencies obtained the beneficiary referrals by paying kickbacks, the agencies should not have received any Medicare reimbursement.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Thuesen prosecuted the case.
In separate cases, Eby and Panganiban await sentencing after pleading guilty for their roles in the kickback scheme. On Jan. 20, 2022, Anita Vijay was sentenced to one month in prison, and Jai Vijay was sentenced to two years’ probation. On July 21, 2022, Karapetyan was sentenced to 18 months in prison.