A bariatric surgeon and one of the founding doctors of the defunct Forest Park Medical Center pleaded guilty Thursday to his role in a $200 million bribery scam that forced the closing of the chain of doctor-owned luxury hospitals in North Texas.
Dr. Wade Neal Barker, 53, of Dallas, pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to pay and receive healthcare bribes and kickbacks as well as aiding and abetting commercial bribery.
“Patients trust doctors to make healthcare recommendations based on their best interest,” said Erin Nealy Cox, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas in a Thursday news release. “Instead, Dr. Barker let his own financial considerations guide decisions about where patients would be treated.”
Barker was the seventh of 21 defendants to plead guilty in the bribery scheme designed to entice doctors to refer lucrative patients — particularly those with high-reimbursing, out-of-network private insurance — to the now-defunct hospital as opposed to other facilities.
Forest Park began in Dallas, but there were also facilities in Fort Worth and Southlake as part of the chain of hospitals. There also were facilities in Frisco and San Antonio. A hospital in Austin never opened.
Federal officials said Barker faces five to seven years in prison. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
Co-defendants Richard Ferdinand Toussaint, Jr., another Forest Park founder, and Alan Andrew Beauchamp, the hospital manager, have pleaded guilty in the case along with several others. The remaining defendants are awaiting trail early next year.
Barker and others were accused of investing in or working at the medical center in a bribery scheme that concentrated on referring patients to the healthcare facility in exchange for illegal kickbacks.
Forest Park was an out-of-network hospital that could set its own prices and receive generally greater reimbursements.
Hospital executives and physicians are accused of paying and taking bribes and kickbacks for patient referrals with high-reimbursement private medical insurance. Owners, managers and employees are also accused of trying to sell to other facilities patients with lower-paying insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Federal agents said Barker and his co-conspirators shelled out about $40 million in bribes, disguised as “marketing money.”
As a result of the bribes, kickbacks and other inducements, from 2009 to 2013, the medical center billed patients’ insurance plans and programs well over $500 million and collected over $200 million in paid claims, a U.S. attorney’s statement says.
Those tainted billings included more than $10 million to the Defense Department healthcare program Tricare, more than $25 million to the Labor Department workers’ compensation program for federal employees and more than $60 million to the healthcare program for federal employees and retirees, according to federal court documents.