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Georgia man arrested in alleged coronavirus test kickback scheme

A Georgia man was charged Monday in federal court with hatching an illegal kickback scheme involving coronavirus tests.

FBI agents arrested Erik Santos, 49, at his home in Braselton on Monday morning. He was charged with one count of conspiring to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute and one count of conspiring to commit health care fraud, New Jersey federal prosecutors said.

“The complaint in this case describes a defendant who saw the spread of COVID-19 as nothing more than an opportunity to profit personally,” Newark U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said. “As the complaint alleges, he offered kickbacks in exchange for medically unnecessary tests – including potentially hard-to-obtain COVID-19 tests – thus preying on people’s fear in order to defraud the government and make money for himself.”

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“It is unfortunate that we have people in our country who will capitalize on others’ suffering to make a buck,” said Gregory Ehrie, head of the Newark FBI office. “But this case takes things to a new low. This defendant not only allegedly defrauded the government, he conspired to bilk his fellow citizens of a valuable resource that’s in high demand. His profiteering is akin to receiving blood money.”

The complaint accused Santos of agreeing with others to be paid kickbacks on a per-test basis for COVID-19 tests, provided that those tests were bundled with a much more expensive respiratory pathogen panel test. That other test does not identify or treat COVID-19.

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“[W]hile there are people going through what they are going through, you can either go bankrupt or you can prosper,” Santos told an FBI informant on March 19 in a recorded phone conversation, according to the complaint.

The complaint also quoted Santos as telling the informant during the call that his other work was on hold because “everybody has been chasing the Covid dollar bird.”

Prosecutors said the kickback scheme involved defrauding Medicare.

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Santos faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the two counts he was charged with.

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