DECEMBER 6, 2023. Prema Thekkek, her management company, Paksn Inc. (Paksn), and six California skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) owned by Thekkek and/or operated by Paksn agreed to a $45.6 million consent judgment for allegations that the group collectively paid kickbacks to physicians for patient referrals and submitted false claims to Medicare for these referrals. These actions violated the False Claims Act. A former employee blew the whistle on this kickback scheme.
The allegations involve Thekkek, Paksn, Thekkek’s management company, and six SNFs, collectively referred to as the SNF Defendants. The allegations claim that from 2009 to 2021, the SNF Defendants, acting under the direction of Thekkek and Paksn, entered into medical directorship agreements with physicians who acted as a means for large amounts of referrals to the SNFs. The defendants sought physicians that would agree in advance to refer patients to the SNFs, and in return would pay the physicians according to the number of referrals. Those who did not meet Thekkek’s standards were terminated. For example, a Paksn employee informed Thekkek of the hiring of two physicians because they promised to refer at least 10 patients in exchange for $2000 a month. Thekkek was pleased, and told the employee, “Good job. Make sure they give you patients every day.” Thekkek was known to overemphasize the importance of promptly paying the referring physicians, fearing that if they did not receive payment, the defendants would not receive patients.
The Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) discussed the consequences of kickback schemes, stating that “Kickbacks impose hidden costs on the health care system and compromise medical decision-making … Working tirelessly with our law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG will continue to combat the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars and protect the integrity of federal health care programs.”
The settlement was reached thanks to a former employee who blew the whistle on the Defendants. Paksn’s former Vice President of Operations and Chief Operating Officer, Trilochan Singh, filed a whistleblower complaint in 2015, exposing the False Claims Act violations. In addition to the $45,645,325.25 settlement, the defendants will also be subject to a five-year corporate integrity agreement which contains compliance obligations and a mandatory independent review of their physician relationships.
If you would like to report healthcare fraud including violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law, you can contact attorneys at Tycko & Zavareei LLP. Eva Gunasekera and Renée Brooker are former officials of the United States Department of Justice and prosecuted whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Eva was the Senior Counsel for Health Care Fraud. Renée served as Assistant Director at the United States Department of Justice, the office that supervises False Claims Act cases in all 94 United States District Courts. Eva was the Senior Counsel for Health Care Fraud. Eva and Renée now represent whistleblowers. For a free consultation, you can contact Renée at [email protected] (tel.: 202-417-3664) or contact Eva Gunasekera at [email protected]. You can also go to Tycko & Zavareei LLP’s website for whistleblowers to learn more at www.fraudfighters.net.