(Cleveland) - The former Chief Operating Officer of MetroHealth Hospital System and three other men were convicted by a federal jury for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud the hospital and others through a series of bribes and kickbacks totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars related to the hospital’s dental program.
Edward R. Hills, 58, of Aurora, Sari Alqsous, 34, of Cleveland, Yazan B. Al-Madani, 34, of Westlake, and Tariq Sayegh, 38, of Cleveland, were all found guilty of criminal charges following a trial that lasted several weeks. They are scheduled to be sentenced November 27.
“These defendants ripped off taxpayers and betrayed the community’s trust when they accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and other bribes,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “Their egregious, offensive behavior lasted nearly a decade and now they will be held accountable for their actions.”
"A jury decided to hold Mr. Hills and his associates accountable for their roles in defrauding our healthcare system,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony said. “The investigation revealed these individuals engaged in a pervasive pattern of fraud, betraying the MetroHealth Hospital System, its employees, and our community. "
“Edward Hills was placed in the utmost position of trust by MetroHealth, but he chose to abuse that position of trust for his own personal greed and ego,” said Ryan L. Korner, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office. “These defendants had the opportunity to come clean and tell the truth. Instead, they chose to obstruct the investigation by telling witnesses to not to cooperate with law enforcement. Now they are convicted felons facing a lengthy prison sentences for their crimes. Today’s guilty verdicts are a direct result of the excellent partnership amongst IRS Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the Ohio Office of the Inspector General.”
“This investigation unraveled a complex scheme that involved corruption on a number of different levels,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “Corruption like this has no place in Ohio, and I applaud the work of all our law enforcement partners who investigated and prosecuted this case.”
Hills worked in various capacities at MetroHealth, including as Chief Operating Officer and Director of MetroHealth Dental. He also served as interim President and Chief Executive Officer from December 2012 through July 2013. Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh are dentists who worked for MetroHealth.
According to court documents, testimony and documents presented at trial:
Hills, Alqsous and Al-Madani engaged in a racketeering conspiracy from 2008 through 2016 involving a series of elaborate bribery conspiracies, witness tampering and other crimes. These bribes include Hills soliciting cash, checks, a $3,879 Louis Vuitton briefcase, a 55-inch television, airline flights and use of a downtown apartment from Alqsous, Al-Madani and others. In return, Hills took official actions on their behalf, including allowing them to work at their private dental businesses during regular business hours while receiving a full-time salary from MetroHealth.
Alqsous, Al-Madani and others gave cash, checks and other things of value to Hills beginning in 2009. Evidence included text messages and meetings, often at expensive restaurants, which resulted in cash being deposited into Hills’ bank accounts.
Alqsous sent a text message to Al-Madani and another person in 2013 that stated: “With 22nd of October approaching we ll be celebrating Dr hills bday earlier this year…1000 dollars each is the gift from the 3 sons their father.” Later that day, $3,000 was deposited into Hills’ bank account.
In 2012, Alqsous rented and lived in an apartment at the Perry Payne apartment building in downtown Cleveland. When he bought a residence, Hills instructed Alqsous to continue paying rent and other bills at the Perry Payne building, even though Alqsous would no longer be living there. Hills used the Perry Payne apartment to house an associate and for his own personal use in 2013 and 2014 while Alqsous, acting on Hills’ orders, continued to pay rent and other bills.
Hills instructed Alqsous to purchase furniture for the apartment for Hills’ personal use. Alqsous sent Hills a text in 2013 stating: “I bought your bedroom yesterday…there is mirrors everywhere…You will like it.”
Hills became interim President and CEO of the MetroHealth Hospital System in December 2012. Around that time, he told Alqsous, Al-Madani and others that he wanted a specific Louis Vuitton briefcase because his predecessor had a similar briefcase.
Alqsous texted a photo of the briefcase to Hills and wrote: “The guys are also very excited about their raise haha.” Hills responded with: “Thanks I’m so excited to have my bag to start my new job as #1.” Later that day, Alqsous, Al-Madani and others purchased the briefcase for $3,879 from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beachwood and later presented it to Hills.
As director of MetroHealth Dental, Hills was responsible for determining monthly bonuses for dentists who produced receipts in excess of their monthly salary and benefits. Dentists typically received a monthly bonus totaling 25 percent of the monies they generated for excess receipts.
Between 2010 and 2014, Hills regularly upwardly adjusted the bonuses of Alqsous, Al-Madani and others, by a total of approximately $92,829.
Hills also allowed Alqsous, Al-Madani and others to retain full-time salaries and benefits at MetroHealth without requiring them to work full-time hours, thus allowing them to operate private dental clinics. Hills, acting at the request of Alqsous and Al-Madani, provided MetroHealth dental residents to practice at those private clinics during regular business hours. Neither Alqsous nor Al-Madani paid wages or salaries to the resident dentists.
Additionally, Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh solicited and accepted bribes totaling tens of thousands of dollars from prospective candidates to the MetroHealth Dental residency program.
In a typical year, the MetroHealth Dental residency accepted four to six candidates for the residency program from a pool of 40 to 60 applicants. Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani each had the authority to influence the selection of dental residents, and Hills had final decisional authority over who was selected for the residency program.
Alqsous and Sayegh often identified and selected candidates who were from Jordan or trained at a Jordanian dental school, telling them they would have to pay a “donation” to MetroHealth to be considered. Alqsous and Sayegh directed the candidates to pay the “donation” directly to them, and in some cases, told the candidates a portion of the money would go to Hills.
Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani solicited at least $75,000 in bribes from resident dentist candidate between 2008 and 2014.
In another conspiracy, Al-Madani and Alqsous paid bribes to Hills in exchange for him taking actions to refer Medicaid recipients to private dental clinics owned by Al-Madani and Alqsous instead of MetroHealth. All three took steps to conceal this activity by claiming kickback checks totaling $17,600 written to Hills were for “consultation fees” or “professional fees”.
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