Westlake cardiologist indicted for overbilling patients for unnecessary procedures

Westlake cardiologist indicted for overbilling patients for unnecessary procedures
Dr. Harold Persaud's indictment includes one count of health care fraud and 15 other counts. (Source: MGN)
Dr. Harold Persaud's indictment includes one count of health care fraud and 15 other counts. (Source: MGN)

WESTLAKE, OH (WOIO) - A 16-count indictment was unsealed in federal court charging a Westlake cardiologist with performing unnecessary catheterizations, tests, stent insertions and causing unnecessary coronary artery bypass surgeries as part of a scheme to overbill Medicare and other insurers by $7.2 million, law enforcement officials said.

Dr. Harold Persaud, 55, was indicted on one count of health care fraud, 14 counts of making false statements and one count of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from criminal activity.

The indictment was announced by Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, Stephen Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI's Cleveland Office, and Lamont Pugh III, special agent in charge, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General – Chicago Region.

"The charges in this case are deeply troubling," Dettelbach said. "Inflating Medicare billings alone would be bad enough. Falsifying cardiac care records, making an unnecessary referral for open heart surgery and performing needless and sometimes invasive heart tests and procedures is inconsistent with not only federal law, but a doctor's basic duty to his patients."

"This doctor violated the sacred trust between doctor and patient by ordering unnecessary tests, procedures and surgeries to line his pockets," Anthony said. "He ripped off taxpayers and put patients' lives at risk."

"Medical providers have a duty and obligation to provide only those services that are medically necessary and are in the best interests of the patients under their care," said Pugh. "The conduct alleged in this indictment outlines a disregard for patient needs in exchange for financial gain at taxpayer expense. The OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to identify fraudulent health care schemes and hold individuals accountable for their actions."

Persaud had a private medical practice at 29099 Health Campus Drive in Westlake and had hospital privileges at Fairview Hospital, St. John's Medical Center and Southwest General Hospital, according to the indictment.

Persaud devised a scheme to defraud and obtain money from Medicare and other insurers. The scheme took place between Feb. 16, 2006 through June 28, 2012, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, his activities in furtherance of the scheme included but were not limited to:

• Persaud selected the billing code for each customer submitted to Medicare and private insurers, and used codes that reflected a service that was more costly than that which was actually performed;

• Persaud performed nuclear stress tests on patients that were not medically necessary;

• He knowingly recorded false results of patients' nuclear stress tests to justify cardiac catheterization procedures that were not medically necessary;

• Persaud performed cardiac catheterizations on patients at the hospitals and falsely recorded the existence and extent of lesions (blockage) observed during the procedures;

• He recorded false symptoms in patient records to justify testing and procedures on patients;

• Persaud inserted cardiac stents in patients who did not have 70 percent or more blockage in the vessel that he stented and who did not have symptoms of blockage;

• He placed a stent in a stenosed artery that already had a functioning bypass, thus providing no medical benefit and increasing the risk of harm to the patient;

• He improperly referred patients for coronary artery bypass surgery when there was no medical necessity for such surgery, which benefited Persaud by increasing the amount of follow-up testing he could perform and bill to Medicare and private insurers;

• Persaud performed medically unnecessary stent procedures, aortograms, renal angiograms and other procedures and tests.

As a result of this scheme, Persaud overbilled and caused the overbilling of Medicare and private insurers in the amount of approximately $7.2 million, of which Medicare and the private insurers paid approximately $1.5 million, according to the indictment.

The indictment seeks to forfeit $93,446 in an account in the name of Harold Persaud and $250,188 in an account in the name of Roberta Persaud.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Collyer and Chelsea Rice, following an investigation by the FBI and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General.

If convicted, the defendant's sentence will be determined by the court after a review of the federal sentencing guidelines and factors unique to the case, including the defendant's prior criminal record (if any), the defendant's role in the offense, and the characteristics of the violation.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial, in which it will be the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

St. John Medical Center has released the following statement:

In February 2012, St. John Medical Center launched an internal investigation of Dr. Harry Persaud's cases after concerns were raised regarding certain interventional cardiology procedures. Dr. Persaud was an independent cardiologist, not employed by St. John Medical Center or University Hospitals. Outside experts were engaged to review Dr. Persaud's cases, and impacted patients who may have received unnecessary stents were notified. St. John Medical Center also notified appropriate regulatory authorities. Since that time, St. John Medical Center has cooperated with federal officials investigating Dr. Persaud. After the issue was detected, additional quality measures were instituted to more closely monitor heart cases for similar situations going forward. An investigation was immediately launched looking into cases of all cardiologists on staff at St. John's for any similar issues. There were none. St. John Medical Center is unable to comment further given pending litigation.

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