Trump pardons physician, former hospital owner convicted in $30M spine surgery kickback scheme

Alan Condon -   Print  |

Former President Donald Trump provided a full pardon to Faustino Bernadett, MD, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for his role in an illegal kickback scheme that steered spine surgeries to a hospital he had owned, NBC News reports.

Dr. Bernadett, a former anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, spent the past year "devoted to helping protect his community from COVID-19," according to the Trump administration.

He had received a prison sentence for "authorizing sham contracts" that concealed more than $30 million in illegal kickbacks to physicians who directed spine surgeries to Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., according to the Department of Justice.

Between January 2008 and October 2010, the hospital paid more than $30 million in illegal kickbacks and performed about 1,400 spinal fusions associated with those kickbacks.

The overall scheme, spanning several years, led to over $900 million in fraudulent bills, mostly submitted to the state's workers' compensation system.

In 2005, Dr. Bernadett bought the hospital from Michael Drobot, who paid kickbacks to physicians, chiropractors and marketers for the referral of thousands of spine patients, according to the DOJ.

Mr. Drobot, under terms of the sale, guaranteed Dr. Bernadett that 75 spine surgeries a month would be performed at the hospital, or his payout would decrease by $25,000 for each surgery below the requirement.

Dr. Bernadett later learned that Mr. Drobot was paying illegal kickbacks to physicians — in the form of management, collection and option agreements — to steer surgeries to the hospital. Upon learning this, he authorized the continued use of the sham contracts, the DOJ said.

Twenty-four defendants have been charged in connection with the scheme; 15 of which have been convicted.

Mr. Drobot received five years in prison for conspiracy and paying illegal kickbacks. He admitted to his role in the scheme, which paid $50 million in bribes to physicians to steer spine surgeries to Pacific Hospital, according to the DOJ.

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