A team of doctors and lawyers have been charged in a five-year slip-and-fall scam that brought in over $31 million.
New York City authorities discovered that over 400 people were recruited in the scheme to claim that they’ve tripped and fallen on faulty sidewalks. The participants would then file lawsuits with specific lawyers, seeking damages in the millions for the alleged falls. Those lawyers would then refer them to particular doctors to receive medical care to back up their claims.
Key players in the scheme who have been charged include New York-licensed attorneys George Constantine and Marc Elefant, who filed the fake lawsuits on behalf of hundreds of fraudulent patients. New York-licensed orthopedic surgeon Andrew Dowd performed hundreds of unnecessary shoulder and knee surgeries on participants, earning nearly $9,500 per procedure. Pain management doctor and surgeon Sady Ribeiro, also licensed in New York, conducted back operations on almost 200 participants. He paid the “patients” cash kickbacks in exchange for referrals. Patients who underwent the unnecessary received up to $1,500 in some cases.
While the money paid to participants was minimal for undergoing such serious surgeries, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said that the doctors and lawyers targeted poor people in the fraud, some of which only requested food during their initial meetings with the ringleaders.
“Many of the patients did not have sufficient clothing to keep them warm during the wintertime and had poor-quality shoes. Members of the fraud scheme also recruited patients who were drug addicts. It was also common for scheme participants to recruit patients from homeless shelters in New York City,” Strauss stated.
The four men face a slew of charges, including mail and wire fraud. They could serve 20 years in prison if convicted.