N.J. cardiologist admits to taking bribes

Cardiologist Shashi Agarwal, MD, pleaded guilty to charges that he referred patients for diagnostic imaging in exchange for cash kickbacks as part of a cash-for-patients scheme with a diagnostic facility in Orange, N.J.

Agarwal, whose cardiology practice is in East Orange, N.J., entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in Newark federal court. He faced one count of soliciting and receiving more than $100,000 in cash kickbacks in violation of the federal health care anti-kickback statute. He is the 10th person to plead guilty to a scheme to pay cash to healthcare providers who referred patients to Orange Community MRI, (Orange MRI) in Orange N.J., for diagnostic testing and is one of 12 doctors and one nurse practitioner arrested Dec. 13, 2011, and charged in the case.

From 2009 through 2011, Orange MRI paid Agarwal for each MRI and CT scan he referred, according to court documents and testimony. According to Agarwal, Orange MRI gave him $100 cash for each Medicare or Medicaid patient he referred for an MRI. Agarwal also received $50 for each CT scan referral. Agarwal also admitted that he agreed to refer as many as 20 MRIs to Orange MRI each month. Agarwal agreed to forfeit $101,750 in bribe money.

Agarwal identified two occasions on which he was paid kickbacks. On Oct. 11, 2011, he received $2,600 in cash from a government informant in exchange for MRI and CT scan referrals. On Nov. 10, 2011, Agarwal received another kickback for patient referrals of $2,500 in cash.

Eight of those who pleaded guilty have agreed to forfeit $279,690 in illegal cash 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 gains. Babaria agreed to forfeit revenues traceable to corrupt referrals, which the government estimates could reach as much as $2 million. Patel agreed to forfeit $89,180.

Other defendants include Ash Khanna, MD, of East Orange, N.J.; Dov Rand, MD, of West Orange, N.J.; Daisy Deguzman, MD, of Newark, N.J.; William Lagrada, MD, of Newark; Maryam Jafari, MD, of Newark, N.J; Chikezie Onyenso, MD, of Irvington, N.J.; Dinesh Patel, MD, of Newark; Ashokkumar Babaria, MD, of Moorestown, N.J.; Lucio Cardoso, MD; Rameshcha Kania, MD; of East Orange; and Jose Castaneda, a nurse practitioner formerly practicing in Newark.

The anti-kickback charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss caused by the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for June 6.