New York surgeon pleads guilty to predatory $31M back surgery scheme


New York City pain specialist and surgeon Sady Ribeiro, MD, pleaded guilty to two fraud charges related to a $31 million trip-and-fall scheme that "preyed upon" extremely poor people, the Justice Department said Sept. 29.

Dr. Ribeiro, 72, is part of a group including two surgeons and two attorneys charged with recruiting people from homeless shelters and other vulnerable populations to agree to undergo multiple unnecessary procedures including back surgery, the Justice Department said.

From about January 2013 to April 2018, the Dr. Ribeiro and others in the scheme coerced people to stage trip-and-fall accidents after which the attorneys would file lawsuits, the department said. About 400 fake patients participated in the scheme, which used cellar doors, cracks in concrete sidewalks and apparent potholes to stage accidents.

Patients were told to seek treatment from certain providers, including Dr. Ribeiro, the Justice Department said. Patients were told they were required to have surgery in order to continue their lawsuits and ultimately be paid. They were usually told to have two unnecessary surgeries in exchange for $1,000 to $1,500.

Patients commonly asked for food in their initial meetings with the attorneys, the Justice Department said. Their legal and medical fees were typically paid for by litigation funding companies, including one owned by an attorney involved in the fraud scheme.

In exchange, the funding companies charged the patients high interest rates, sometimes up to 50 percent on medical loans and up to 100 percent on personal loans, the Justice Department said. Often, most or all of the proceeds awarded in the lawsuits were paid to the funding companies, attorneys, doctors and others, with the patients only seeing a small percentage.

Dr. Ribeiro is facing a maximum of five years in prison for apiece for both charges he admitted to, the Justice Department said. He will also forfeit $513,005 and pay $3,928,133 in restitution.

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