The operator of Solstice Wellness Center, located inside the Sands Point Professional Plaza in Rockaway Park, and three of his employees were charged this week in a massive million dollar Medicare fraud scheme in which patients received cash kickbacks for office visits, federal officials announced this week.
The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) raided the office of Solstice Wellness, located at 230 Beach 102 Street, on Wednesday morning and arrested the center’s chief operating officer, Dmitry Shteyman, 35, on-site and confiscated medical and business records from the facility.
Shteyman and his brother Alexsey, 41, along with Rockaway employees Maxsim Shvedkin, 38, and receptionist, Sara Kalantarov, 22, are collectively accused of recruiting Medicare beneficiaries and distributing cash kickbacks to them on a pervisit basis. This was to induce them to be transported by ambulette to and from Solstice Wellness but with Medicaid footing that particular part of the bill.
According to Special Agent in Charge Tom O’Donnell, who spoke to The Wave outside the facility on Wednesday, the patients, primarily of Russian descent, were recruited by the employees and paid $50 per visit. Medicare was then billed either for unnecessary services or services that were never rendered.
“Usually when you go to the doctor you shell out money, but these patients were paid to come to this office,” O’Donnell said.
Shevedkin and Kalantarov were arrested off-site, but Shteyman’s brother, Alexsey, who officials say is living in Los Angeles and was the primary recruiter and consultant to Solstice Wellness, is still at large.
Patients were primarily physical therapy patients, O’Donnell said, and would come in three times a week on average, so there was always a high population of patients.
The investigation of Solstice Wellness, which opened in Rockaway last July, was conducted by a federal strike force, which was recently formed through a joint operation between HHS-OIG and the Department of Justice (DOJ) aimed at tackling Medicare fraud.
The strike force, O’Donnell says, was formed to locate high areas of fraud and after data was analyzed by the agencies, the borough of Brooklyn and surrounding areas came up in several categories as a hotspot for fraud.
Each strike force team is equipped with its own set of prosecutors, audit support and other resourceful professionals. In addition, this particular investigation included working closely with the New York State office of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU). However the prosecution of this case is strictly dealing with Medicare dollars, O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell added that although DOJ is involved in the strike force and virtually all other cases they investigate, Wednesday’s arrests were strictly a joint operation between HHS-OIG and MFCU.
The specific amount of fraudulent billing is still unclear, but during their time doing business in Rockaway, Solstice Wellness has billed Medicare more than one million dollars, mostly for physical therapy but for diagnostic testing as well.
There are a number of strike forces across the country including Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and Detroit to combat Medicare fraud. O’Donnell says the strike force to date has been fairly successful despite being in business for just six months.
“When the data comes to us and you can get local and federal prosecutors working together to attack a certain problem, in this case [billing for] physical therapy, it can be successful and save a lot of time,” he said.
The three arrestees were brought to United States Eastern District Court in Brooklyn. They have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, with submitting and with causing to be submitted false claims and with paying health care kickbacks. In addition, the Shteyman brothers and Shvedkin were each indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and 16 counts of health care fraud. No health care provider employed at the Solstice Wellness Center was arrested.
The basic charges of conspiracy to defraud, submitting false claims and paying kickbacks carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, per count. The charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and health care fraud each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, per count.
“When you have these unnecessary services or services not rendered the taxpayers pay for it,” O’Donnell said. “There are people who really need Medicare funds and they are taking up scarce resources in a scheme that affects everyone.