Evidence showed that dentist Edward R. Hills and three colleagues from 2008 through 2016 took part in elaborate bribery conspiracies, witness tampering and other crimes.
The former COO of MetroHealth Hospital System was sentenced this week to more than 15 years in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy that used bribes and kickbacks to defraud the Cleveland health system's dental program of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A jury last year found Edward R. Hills, 58, of Aurora, Ohio guilty of criminal charges in a trial last year, along with coconspirators and fellow dentists Sari Alqsous, 34, of Cleveland, Yazan B. Al-Madani, 34, of Westlake, and Tariq Sayegh, 38, of Cleveland.
The three codefendants will be sentenced later this month. Restitution will be determined later, federal prosecutors said.
"Dr. Hills violated the trust of taxpayers and the leadership of a hospital dedicated to serving the least among us," U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio Justin Herdman said in a media release.
"Dr. Hills earned this prison sentence by putting his greed above all else, soliciting and taking cash, rent payments, plane tickets, an expensive briefcase and other items as bribes," he said.
Hills was COO and Director of MetroHealth Dental. He also served as interim president and CEO from December 2012 through July 2013.
Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh worked for MetroHealth.
According to testimony and documents presented at trial, the three racketeers conspired from 2008 through 2016 in elaborate bribery conspiracies, witness tampering and other crimes.
These bribes include Hills soliciting cash, checks, a $3,879 Louis Vuitton briefcase, a 55-inch television, airline flights and use of a downtown apartment from Alqsous, Al-Madani and others.
In return, Hills took official actions on their behalf, including allowing them to work at their private dental businesses during regular business hours while receiving a full-time salary from MetroHealth.
Alqsous, Al-Madani and others gave cash, checks and other things of value to Hills beginning in 2009. Evidence included text messages and meetings, often at expensive restaurants, which resulted in cash being deposited into Hills' bank accounts, DOJ said.
Hills became interim President and CEO of the MetroHealth Hospital System in December 2012. Around that time, he told Alqsous, Al-Madani and others that he wanted a specific Louis Vuitton briefcase because his predecessor had a similar briefcase.
Alqsous texted a photo of the briefcase to Hills and wrote: "The guys are also very excited about their raise haha."
Hills responded with: "Thanks I'm so excited to have my bag to start my new job as #1." Later that day, Alqsous, Al-Madani and others purchased the briefcase for $3,879 from Saks Fifth Avenue and gave it to Hills, court documents showed.
As director of MetroHealth Dental, Hills was responsible for determining monthly bonuses for dentists who produced receipts in excess of their monthly salary and benefits.
Between 2010 and 2014, Hills regularly upwardly adjusted the bonuses of Alqsous, Al-Madani and others, by a total of approximately $92,829.
Hills also allowed Alqsous, Al-Madani and others to retain full-time salaries and benefits at MetroHealth without working full-time, allowing them to operate private dental clinics.
Hills, acting for Alqsous and Al-Madani, provided MetroHealth dental residents to practice at those private clinics during regular business hours. Neither Alqsous nor Al-Madani paid wages or salaries to the resident dentists, DOJ said.
Additionally, Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh solicited and accepted bribes totaling tens of thousands of dollars from prospective candidates to the MetroHealth Dental residency program.
In a typical year, the MetroHealth Dental residency accepted four to six candidates for the residency program from a pool of 40 to 60 applicants. Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani each had the authority to influence the selection of dental residents, and Hills had final decisional authority over who was selected for the residency program.
Alqsous and Sayegh often identified and selected candidates who were from Jordan or trained at a Jordanian dental school, telling them they would have to pay a "donation" to MetroHealth to be considered. Alqsous and Sayegh directed the candidates to pay the "donation" directly to them, and in some cases, told the candidates a portion of the money would go to Hills.
Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani solicited at least $75,000 in bribes from resident dentist candidate between 2008 and 2014.
In another conspiracy, Al-Madani and Alqsous paid bribes to Hills in exchange for him taking actions to refer Medicaid recipients to private dental clinics owned by Al-Madani and Alqsous instead of MetroHealth.
A spokeswoman for MetroHealth said the health system would not be commenting on the proceedings.
“Dr. Hills earned this prison sentence by putting his greed above all else, soliciting and taking cash, rent payments, plane tickets, an expensive briefcase and other items as bribes.”
Justin Herdman, U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.
Photo credit: Pamela Au / Shutterstock
The bribes included cash, checks, a $3,879 Louis Vuitton briefcase, a 55-inch television, airline flights and use of a downtown apartment from Hills' coconspirators.
In return, Hills allowed his coconspirators to work at their private dental businesses during regular business hours while receiving a full-time salary from MetroHealth.
As director of MetroHealth Dental, Hills doled out unearned bonuses to his coconspirators totalling more than $92,000.
Hills accepted bribes in exhcange for Medicaid referrals to conspirators' private dental clinics instead of MetroHealth.
The coconspirators took tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from prospective candidates to the MetroHealth Dental residency program.