By CBS13 Staff

FOLSOM (CBS13) – An owner of multiple home health care facilities and a hospice around the Sacramento area pleaded guilty to a home health care fraud scheme, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday.

Akop Atoyan, 48, of Glendale in Southern California, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit the aforementioned crime and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks.

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Atoyan and his wife Liana Karapetyan owned and controlled ANG Health Care Inc. and Excel Hospice Care Inc. in Folsom and Excel Home Healtcare Inc. in El Dorado Hills.

According to the DOJ, although the pair certified to Medicare that they would not pay kickbacks in exchange for Medicare beneficiary referrals to the agencies, Atoyan and his wife paid and directed others to pay kickbacks to multiple people for beneficiary referrals between July 2015 and April 2019.

Some of the kickback recipients were health care employees and their spouses. They included John Eby, a registered nurse in Sacramento; Anita Vijay, a director of social services at a Sacramento assisted living facility; Jai Vijay, Anita Vijay’s husband; and Mariela Panganiban, a director of social services at a skilled nursing facility in Roseville.

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More than 8,000 claims were submitted to Medicare for the cost of home health care and hospice services, which led to Medicare paying around $31 million, the DOJ said.

The DOJ said $2 million of that amount was paid to the agencies by Medicare for alleged services provided to beneficiaries, who were referred in exchange for kickbacks paid to the Vijays, Eby and Panganiban, among others. Prosecutors said that because those beneficiaries were referred by paying kickbacks, that $2 million should not have been reimbursed.

In addition to pleading guilty, Atoyan agreed to pay more than $2.5 million in restitution to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and to forfeit that same amount to the United States, prosecutors said.

Atoyan faces up to 15 years in prison for both counts and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 7, 2021.

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His wife, Karapetyan, along with Eby, Panganiban and the Vijays are all awaiting sentencing after they also pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme.