Ophthalmologist Pleads Guilty To Seven-Year Healthcare Fraud Scheme And To Defrauding SBA Program Intended To Help Small Businesses During COVID-19 Pandemic
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that AMEET GOYAL, an ophthalmologist in Rye, New York, pled guilty yesterday to perpetrating a seven-year healthcare fraud scheme by falsely billing for millions of dollars of procedures he did not perform, and also to fraudulently obtaining two Government-guaranteed loans intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic while facing charges on pretrial release for the healthcare fraud scheme. GOYAL pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel to all charges in a six-count superseding Indictment.
U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Dr. Ameet Goyal was an experienced eye doctor who became blinded by greed and routinely defrauded patients who trusted him to heal their eyes. He grossly overbilled minor ophthalmological procedures, billed for tests and procedures that were never performed, falsified medical records, attempted to corrupt others in his practice to abet the scheme, and sent patients who refused to pay his fraudulent charges to collections. Already facing charges for defrauding patients and insurers of millions of dollars, Goyal committed a new fraud in applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans on behalf of two separate businesses and lying on the applications. Goyal looted over $630,000 in federal funds earmarked for legitimate small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Goyal has now admitted to both fraudulent schemes, agreed to forfeit $3.6 million, and faces the possibility of a significant term of incarceration.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment, court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
At all relevant times, GOYAL owned and operated the ophthalmology practice Ameet Goyal M.D. P.C., doing business as Rye Eye Associates, with offices in Rye, Mt. Kisco, and Wappingers Falls, New York, and Greenwich, Connecticut (the “Practice”). Between 2010 and 2017, GOYAL engaged in widespread healthcare fraud by consistently “upcoding” simpler, lower-paying surgical procedures and examinations as complex, higher-paying major operations in fraudulent billings submitted to Medicare, private insurance companies, and patients. As a result, GOYAL fraudulently obtained at least $3.6 million in payments for procedures he did not perform. As part of the scheme, GOYAL routinely falsified patient medical records, authoring fictitious templated operative reports that matched the complex operation he billed rather than the different minor procedure he actually performed. GOYAL also pressured other employees in the Practice to engage in the scheme, and threatened the livelihood of employees who refused to comply. GOYAL caused patients to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for fraudulently billed charges, and initiated debt collection proceedings against patients who did not pay the full amounts of those false charges.
For example, GOYAL and others at the Practice routinely treated patients for an excision of a chalazion, a small bump on an eyelid, typically removed in less than 15 minutes. An excision of chalazion, when billed truthfully under its associated code, paid the Practice approximately $200 on average from patients and insurance programs. However, GOYAL systematically billed an excision of chalazion and other similar superficial eyelid procedures as if he had performed an orbitotomy together with a conjunctivoplasty, which are complex surgeries into the orbit of the eye, often to remove an orbital tumor together with grafting to close the resulting wound, that typically take an hour or more to perform. These substantial surgeries, as billed, paid the Practice approximately $1,400 on average from a combination of insurance and patient out-of-pocket payments. GOYAL also upcoded certain superficial procedures as an excision and repair of eyelid, a type of higher-paying eyelid surgery involving reconstruction or removal of certain lesions other than chalazions. During the relevant time period, GOYAL billed less than 40 chalazions under the billing code designated for excision of chalazion, while billing over 1,400 orbitotomies, over 700 bundled conjunctivoplasties, and over 1,600 excision and repair of eyelid surgeries, all of which he claimed to have personally performed. The scheme involved numerous other CPT codes for procedures and examinations not performed or upcoded, resulting in at least $3.6 million of ill-gotten gains for GOYAL.
On November 21, 2019, an indictment (the “Indictment”) was returned in the action United States of America v. Ameet Goyal, 19 Cr. 844 (CS) (S.D.N.Y.), charging GOYAL with healthcare fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements relating to healthcare matters. On November 22, 2019, GOYAL was arraigned on the Indictment and placed on pretrial release pursuant to an order that notified GOYAL of the potential effect of committing a criminal offense while on pretrial release.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). Applicants with pending criminal charges are ineligible for PPP loans. The PPP also limits each eligible borrower to one loan, and a maximum loan amount calculated based on a business’s average monthly payroll expenses.
In or about April 2020, GOYAL applied to the SBA and Bank-1, a federally insured institution, for over $630,000 in Government-guaranteed loans through the SBA’s PPP Program. Specifically, on or about April 21, 2020, GOYAL applied for a loan in the amount of $358,700 for the business “Ameet Goyal,” with his own social security number and email address. On or about April 29, 2020, GOYAL applied for a second loan in the amount of $278,500, with a business name “Rye eye associates,” using the Employer Identification Number for Ameet Goyal M.D. P.C and a different email address controlled by GOYAL. To substantiate each loan, however, GOYAL submitted the exact same underlying payroll expense report, showing the same employees and payroll costs.
On both applications, GOYAL falsely answered that he was not facing any pending criminal charges, and electronically placed his initials “AG” directly under his “No” response. GOYAL also falsely certified, among other things, that his business would not receive another PPP loan until the end of the year. After obtaining approval from Bank-1 and the SBA through his fraudulent misrepresentations, GOYAL executed loan notes for two loans. On May 4, 2020, GOYAL received the first loan of $358,700, and on May 11, 2021, GOYAL received the second loan of $278,500. GOYAL used the business checking account into which these funds were deposited to pay business and personal expenses, including by making a $1,800 payment to a country club in Westchester, New York, within days of receiving the first loan.
GOYAL, 58, of Rye, New York, pled guilty to all six counts in the Superseding Indictment. The first count charged healthcare fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; the second count charged wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and the third count charged making false statements relating to health care matters, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Counts four, five, and six charged that while on pretrial release, the defendant committed the following offenses, respectively: bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; making false statements on a loan application, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; and making false statements in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Additionally, a conviction under counts four, five, and six, if committed while on pretrial release, provides for an additional maximum sentence of 10 years in prison consecutive to any other sentence of imprisonment.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
GOYAL is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Seibel on January 6, 2022, at 2:30 p.m.
Ms. Strauss praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and the Office of the Inspector General of the SBA, whose expertise and diligence were integral to the development of this investigation and the guilty plea.