Two former Sacred Heart Hospital administrators in Chicago pleaded guilty Tuesday to their roles in a scheme to pay doctors illegal kickbacks to refer patients to the now-shuttered hospital.
Anthony Puorro, the hospital's former chief operating officer, and Noemi Velgara, a former hospital vice president, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Chicago to conspiring to pay kickbacks in exchange for the referral of patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Prosecutors plan to recommend prison sentences of five years for Puorro and two years for Velgara, according to their plea agreements.
Puorro's attorney, Susan Shatz, declined to comment on the plea Wednesday morning. Attempts to reach Velgara's attorney were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The two were among eight original defendants indicted in the case, including the hospital's former owner and CEO, Edward J. Novak. The government alleges hospital administrators paid doctors bribes disguised as consulting, employment, personal services compensation, rent and instructional stipends.
Purro admitted that he kept records of how many patients each doctor referred to the hospital in exchange for the kickbacks. He also offered doctors rent payments, rent-free space to treat patients, labor of medical professionals and payment of doctors' malpractice insurance, among other things, in exchange for referrals to the hospital.
Velgara admitted, in her plea, to arranging to pay drivers of Sacred Heart's vans for referring patients to the hospital, among other things.
A trial for Novak and others is scheduled for Jan. 26.
After the administrators' arrests, the Chicago hospital struggled to stay open and ultimately tried to sell the facility. Lacking a buyer, the hospital auctioned off its equipment and sold the building in 2013.
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