An Illinois doctor Friday became the 10th person convicted in a scheme to pay physicians kickbacks in exchange for referrals to Chicago's now shuttered Sacred Heart Hospital.
A federal jury convicted Dr. Venkateswara Kuchipudi on one count of conspiring to defraud the government, and on nine counts of illegally receiving benefits from referring patients covered by federal healthcare programs. Each count carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois.
“We're disappointed in the verdict because Dr. Kuchipudi did not willfully violate the anti-kickback statute,” said the doctor's lawyer, Theodore Poulos, a partner at Cotsirilos, Tighe, Streicker, Poulos & Campbell. He called his client "a great doctor.”
Kuchipudi, 69, was allegedly one of Sacred Heart's most prolific referral sources. The hospital gave the physician free use of physician assistants and nurse practitioners in exchange for his referrals both inside the hospital and to Chicago-area nursing homes where many of his patients lived. Evidence at trial also showed that Kuchipudi and the hospital arranged for his patients to be transported long distances to the hospital for treatment, even when other hospitals were closer and had more comprehensive facilities, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 2.
Prior convictions related to the Sacred Heart kickbacks include Edward Novak, the hospital's owner and CEO; Roy Payawal, its chief financial officer; two former chief operating officers, Clarence Nagelvoort and Anthony Purro, and four other doctors, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The hospital closed in 2013.