Seven Not So Lucky Number for Two Healthcare Providers

A Florida doctor and the owner of several diagnostic labs have recently found themselves each facing jail sentences of seven years for committing healthcare fraud in separate cases.

On Nov. 9, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Leonel Palatnik of Aventura and co-owner of Panda Conservation Group, was sentenced to nearly 7 years in prison for paying and receiving kickbacks in a genetic testing scheme.

According to court documents, Palatnik conspired with other co-owners of the company along with Michael Stein, the owner of 1523 Holdings LLC to pay illegal kickbacks to Stein in exchange for his work arranging for telemedicine providers to authorize genetic testing orders for Palatnik’s lab. The two companies then exploited temporary waivers to telehealth restrictions enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, which were supposed to make it easier for Medicare recipients to receive care from home through telemedicine. Stein is awaiting trial.

Instead, it was alleged that they took advantage of the waivers by using telehealth providers to authorize thousands of medically unnecessary cancer and cardiovascular genetic testing orders. In exchange, Panda gave providers access to patient information and the opportunity to bill for these telehealth consultations with Medicare recipients, which often never took place.

Palatnik pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and offer kickbacks and one count of paying a kickback. The case was brought as part of the COVID-19 Health Care Fraud coordinated law enforcement action that took place May 26 against 14 defendants in seven judicial districts.

As we first wrote about in July 2020, COVID-related healthcare fraud began within months of the start of the pandemic.

Cardiac Surgeon Sentenced

In the other Florida case, a Tallahassee cardiac and thoracic surgeon who rose to fame jet setting around the country performing heart transplants recently was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for performing unnecessary surgeries on patients and then defrauding health insurance providers out of $29 million.

According to court documents, Dr. Moses de-Graft Johnson, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ghana solicited patients by creating relationships with churches, nursing homes, a hospital and an outreach organization, many of which were in underserved communities. He then subjected them to unnecessary surgical procedures and victimized others by falsifying their medical records to show he performed surgeries when he did not. The activities took place over a court of four years until his arrest in February 2020.

de-Graft Johnson owned and operated Thorvasc PA, a Florida corporation doing business as the Heart and Vascular Institute of North Florida (HVINF). HVINF was a physician’s office and outpatient catheterization laboratory in Tallahassee.

As part of his plea, deGraft-Johnson acknowledged performing two invasive diagnostic angiography procedures – one on each leg – on hundreds of his patients, whether medically necessary or not. When his patients returned for follow-up office visits, deGraft-Johnson submitted fraudulent claims to their insurance companies stating he performed athrectomies during the appointments.

He admitted having falsely claimed to have performed more than 3,000 of these surgical procedures to clear blockages in arteries in as many as 845 of his patients’ legs. He pleaded guilty to all 58 counts against him in federal court in Dec. 2020.

“Instead of caring for his patients, this defendant targeted vulnerable members of our community, subjected them to unnecessary surgical procedures, and falsified documents so he could line his pockets with millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Rachel L. Rojas, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division.

In addition to prison, de-Graft Johnson was ordered to forfeit his assets in the U.S. and overseas that included luxury cars, jewelry, and homes in Manhattan, Southampton, New York, Miami and Houston as well as being ordered to make more than $28.4 million in restitution.

The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale has been representing clients under investigation for more than 30 years. Our long-standing experience allows us to help clients to prepare for an investigation and to limit liability and minimize potential damage. For more information call us at 305-358-4500 or email

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The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale