A federal jury found the owner of an Owings Mills imaging firm guilty Wednesday of defrauding the federal Medicare and Medicaid system of more than $7.5 million and contributing to the deaths of two patients whose diseases and infections were not caught on X-rays because employees were not qualified to read them.
Rafael Chikvashvili, the owner of Alpha Diagnostics LLC, was convicted of several counts of health care fraud, including two counts of fraud resulting in death, for ordering employees who were not doctors to interpret X-rays, ultrasounds and cardiologic examinations, prosecutors said.
In one case, they said, Chikvashvili directed an employee to create false documents while on vacation in Jamaica.
Chikvashvili forged physicians' signatures to make reports appear legitimate, prosecutors said. Chikvashvili holds a Ph.D. in mathematics but is not a medical doctor or licensed physician.
"The evidence showed that Rafael Chikvashvili failed to provide medical services to patients who needed them, and billed for services that he did not provide," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.
Chikvashvili's attorney said his client would challenge the ruling.
"Mr. Chikvashvili is disappointed with the verdict, but he respects the process and will pursue an appeal," attorney Jonathan Biran said.
Chikvashvili was also convicted of wire fraud conspiracy, making false statements and aggravated identity theft. A federal judge ordered him taken into custody until a hearing Thursday to determine if he should be released until his sentencing.
Alpha Diagnostics was a portable diagnostic servicing company that offered X-rays, ultrasound tests and cardiologic examinations. The company's clients included nursing homes with Medicare and Medicaid patients in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Prosecutors said employees failed to detect congestive heart failure in one woman. She was not transferred to an acute-care facility for treatment, as is standard medical practice, and instead was kept in a rehabilitative nursing home. She died four days after the misinterpreted chest X-ray.
A second patient was scheduled to undergo elective surgery. An Alpha Diagnostics employee failed to detect mild congestive heart failure on a pre-operative chest X-ray and the woman was cleared for elective surgery and experienced significant bleeding during and after the procedure. She died six days after the misdiagnosed X-ray.
Timothy Emeigh, vice president of Alpha Diagnostics in charge of operations, earlier pleaded guilty to health care fraud and is awaiting sentencing.
In one example, prosecutors said, Emeigh, a licensed radiologic technologist, was ordered by his boss to use his laptop while on vacation in Jamaica to write false reports.
Chikvashvili faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for each of the two counts of health care fraud resulting in death and as much as 20 years for the other charges.