SAN DIEGO 

A federal judge sentenced the CEO of several Southern California-based medical imaging companies to five years in prison, officials stated.

        Sam Sarkis Solakyan ran a scheme that submitted more than $250 million in fraudulent claims through the California Workers’ Compensation System for medical services procured through bribes and kickbacks to physicians and others, officials stated.

      Solakyan, 40, of Glendale, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cynthia A. Bashant. Judge Bashant also ordered him to pay $29.9 million as restitution to the victim insurers.

The judge also banned him from working in the health care and workers compensation industries for his three-year term of supervised release once he completes his prison sentence.

         person in blue denim jeans with gray and black metal padlock During an eight-day trial that concluded on July 2, a jury found Solakyan guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud and health care fraud, and 11 counts of honest services mail fraud.

          “[Solakyan] paid some $9 million in kickbacks in order to generate over $250 million in fraudulent medical billings, the vast majority of which were for MRIs [magnetic resource images] that were…totally medically unnecessary,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “[Solakyan] devised, and through his kickbacks fueled, a cross-referral scheme that incentivized [co-conspirators] to herd patients to physicians who overprescribed ancillary services in exchange for cash and other economic benefits.”

          Solakyan was the CEO of several medical-imaging companies, including the Glendale-based Vital Imaging Inc., and San Diego MRI Institute.

Solakyan operated diagnostic imaging facilities throughout California, including the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange counties, and San Diego.

          From no later than mid-2013 to November 2016, Solakyan conspired with physicians and others to perpetrate a scheme in which physicians were paid bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the referral of workers’ compensation patients.

The compensation offered to the corrupt doctors consisted of either cash or referrals of new patients in what is known as a “cross-referral” scheme.

          The conspirators obscured the true nature of their financial relationships to conceal the bribes and kickbacks, including by entering into various sham agreements such as contracts for “marketing,” “administrative services,” and “scheduling,” when in fact the money Solakyan paid amounted to volume-based, per- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan bribes and kickbacks to induce physicians to refer and continue referring patients to Solakyan’s companies.

          Solakyan’s recruiters required physicians to refer a minimum number of patients to receive “cross-referrals,” and those referrals stopped if the physicians failed to meet the minimum quota. Solakyan paid more than $8.6 million in kickbacks disguised largely as sham “scheduling” fees in exchange for MRI referrals, payments which were concealed from patients and health insurers.

          In total, Solakyan submitted and caused to be submitted more than $250 million in claims for medical services procured through the payment of bribes and kickbacks.

The FBI and the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division, investigated this matter.

By Raul

Raul Hernandez is a former journalist. He has worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 30 years at the El Paso Herald-Post, El Paso Times, Press Enterprise in Riverside, California and the Ventura County Star in California. He was a court reporter for more than 20 years.