Cardiologists settle in N.J. kickback scheme

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Doctors, who profited from kickbacks, forced to return the funds. Source: Medical Spa MD  

Four cardiologists have agreed to pay civil charges of $387,000 to settle lawsuits against them related to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) kickback scheme, in a case that they were paid to refer their patients to the university's cardiac surgery program.

The U.S. Attorney's office said the four were given lucrative academic posts at the UMDNJ in Newark, N.J., in return for patient referrals, but performed little or no services, according to the Star-Ledger.

The civil settlements were reached with cardiologists: Trevor Atherley of Watchung, N.J., who agreed to return $180,000 in salary; Abdul Ameen of Bayonne, N.J., who will pay back $38,000; Michael Benz of Nutley, N.J., who will return approximately $30,000; and Joven Dungo of Caldwell, N.J., who will return $138,000, representing twice the amount of salary he received, the Ledger reported.

“We will continue to pursue those who make referrals based on financial considerations rather than patient health,” U.S. Attorney Chris Christie said in a statement.

Prosecutors told the Ledger that the settlements will forgo filing suits against the four doctors. More than a dozen community cardiologists and several top UMDNJ administrators have so far been implicated in the case, which was exposed after the former chief of UMDNJ's cardiology division filed a whistleblower suit against the university.

A federal monitor later concluded the cardiologists—hired as part-time clinical faculty members—had no research credentials, taught no classes and were essentially paid to do nothing more than bring patients into a heart surgery program that was then at risk of losing its state accreditation, according to the Ledger.

“Since the concerns over the community cardiology program first came to light in the fall of 2006, the UMDNJ Board of Trustees and management at the university have worked with the former federal monitor and with the N.J. attorney general's office in restructuring the program,” UMDNJ said in a statement. “The reforms implemented by UMDNJ to the cardiology program are an example of the many positive steps taken at the university over the past two years.”