Ever since she was a little girl, Michele Martinho wanted to be a doctor.
It’s all she ever thought about. Her whole young life revolved around her dream, and she molded her education and extracurricular activities around this dream to ensure she gained admission to medical school and then ultimately a medical residency.
Michelle was the daughter of immigrants, and fate seemed to be on her side. Immediately upon completion of her training, she was offered the opportunity to purchase a medical practice on the Lower East side of New York, which was very close to her childhood home in New Jersey. So, with money borrowed from her parents, she moved forward with the career she had dreamed about for so long.
The Washington Post reported that today, Michelle Martinho is just one of 16 physicians who has pleaded guilty to a year-long scheme that netted more than $100 million. Michelle’s dream of becoming a physician has ended with her becoming a felon. In 2014, she pleaded guilty to one count of accepting a bribe.
Last month, as both a physician and a felon, Martinho spoke to a small group at the Georgetown University School of medicine. She says her world came undone by an aspect of medical practice that, despite many years of education, she was ill-equipped to handle.
– The D.C. Clothesline (@DCClothesline) April 29, 2017
Doctor Martinho accepted monthly payments of $5,000 to refer patients to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services, a New Jersey facility offering blood tests and other screenings. These medical referrals are illegal because it allows doctors to potentially put their financial interests ahead of the best interests of their patients.
So far, the investigation has resulted in 43 people being convicted, 29 of whom were doctors. According to the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, $100 million has been paid to the testing lab by both private insurance companies and Medicare. Today, the government has recovered more than $12 million through asset forfeiture, and the company is out of business.
In Martinho’s case, she accepted cash payments totaling $155,000. She acknowledges that she knew she was evading tax laws when she started taking the money in 2010 and blames only herself for the situation she now finds herself in. However, she wasn’t aware that the referral itself was considered a kickback. It was a friend helping set up her office who suggested the idea to her, which was followed up by a representative from the laboratory itself.
– Sofia Cotte (@MarcoClix) April 12, 2017
Michelle Martinho now offers to speak at any ethics or healthcare institution that will accept her because she wants to warn future doctors about things she believes they’re not aware of. She advises her audience to never accept anything at all from the numerous device, drug, and other representatives who work so hard to gain access to doctors’ offices.
And, if there’s any confusion, she suggests they seek advice from an attorney who specializes in medical practice.
“I want them to know, ‘Wow, this is how it happens.’ Slowly it infiltrates into your practice, and you didn’t see it coming.”
Martinho is a single parent to two small children, and now she’s facing not only the loss of her medical license but possible jail time as well. The maximum penalty for her crime is a $250,000 fine and a five-year prison sentence. She realizes that, as a felon, her future employment prospects are not good, and she’s already had a bank account closed. In addition, she knows that, because of her conviction, several institutions have ignored her request to speak to their students. Basically, she feels she’s destroyed her own life.
“All of these things from one decision, one crime, which is huge. But I want to make sure this rings in the minds of future medical students. We have not been prepared for the business of medicine. We were taught the medicine of medicine.”
– The Mass Deception (@MassDeception1) September 23, 2016
Martinho said that “restorative justice” was her own idea, and that she hoped to speak to as many medical students as possible. So far she has emailed about 350 health groups, medical schools, and other institutions, and to date, she has completed 25 lectures.
When asked, Michele Martinho said she doesn’t know whether her efforts will help when it comes to sentencing, and clarified that no deal has been made with prosecutors.
Speaking in an interview after her Georgetown lecture, Martinho said, “I’m hoping it makes a difference overall in my future.”
Patch reported that Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services in Parsippany received more than $350,000, while Martinho netted approximately $155,000. A BLS salesperson by the name of Kevin Kerekes paid the cash bribes to Martinho; Kerekes has already pleaded guilty to his involvement in the scheme. U.S. attorney Paul Fishman announced that Martino is scheduled for sentencing on July 8.
The illegal scheme, which included the company’s president and numerous associates, resulted in more than $100 million in payments to BLS from various private insurance companies and Medicare. To date, more than $12 million has been recovered through forfeiture.
[Featured Image by Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock]