Coronavirus kickbacks: FBI arrests Georgia man accused of large-scale unnecessary testing scam

"It is unfortunate that we have people in our country who will capitalize on others' suffering to make a buck," the agent in charge said.
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Items from a COVID-19 test kit at the Core Lab in Northwell Health's Center for Advanced Medicine in Lake Success, New York, on March 4, 2020.Michael Nagle / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — FBI agents arrested a Georgia man Monday on charges that he accepted kickbacks from medical testing companies by referring people for COVID-19 testing who didn't need it to fraudulently get Medicare reimbursement.

Court documents said Erik Santos, 49, of Braselton, Georgia, engaged in a large-scale scheme to defraud the government by soliciting and receiving payments from companies involved in medical testing in exchange for steering people to those companies for expensive tests that Medicare would pay for.

Prosecutors said he was already getting kickbacks for unnecessary cancer screenings when the pandemic hit.

Prosecutors said Santos told a government informant during a March 19 phone call that "while there are people going through what they are going through, you can either go bankrupt or you can prosper," and added, "Everybody has been chasing the COVID dollar bird."

Gregory Ehrie, special-agent-in-charge of the FBI's office in Newark, New Jersey, which led the investigation, said in a statement that the operation amounted to an effort to get blood money.

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"It is unfortunate that we have people in our country who will capitalize on others' suffering to make a buck," Ehrie said. "But this case takes things to a new low."

The FBI said Santos ran a marketing company that generated leads for medical testing companies. Agents were investigating what they said were his efforts to get kickbacks for cancer screenings when he began to bundle them with tests for the pandemic virus.

The goal of the scheme, court documents said, "was to specifically target Medicare beneficiaries who were not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or were otherwise unlikely to test positive for the virus."

Information about an attorney for Santos was not immediately available.