Four personal-injury lawyers in South Florida have been accused of paying for clients using a scheme known as kickbacks, the Sun-Sentinel has reported. These lawyers were paying non-attorneys to solicit to car-accident victims for their firms then receiving payment from doctor’s offices for referring the patients.
According to investigators, the four attorneys received $521,070 in kickbacks in a roughly 18-month period from May 2015 to December 2016. Three of the lawyers are from Fort Lauderdale and the fourth is from Boca Raton.
Investigators finally made their arrests on September 6, charging each of the attorneys with a range of felonies including: organized fraud, patient brokering, and money laundering. All four have since bonded out awaiting trial.
Who were the four attorneys arrested?
- Steven Slootsky
Facing 15 charges including obtaining property over $50,000 by fraud; violating patient brokering laws, and illegal sale of insurance by fraud. He has since posted a $13,000 bond. Slootsky’s law office is in Boca Raton, FL.
- Adam Hurtig
Facing 14 charges including insurance fraud over $20,000, money laundering, and violating patient brokering laws. He has since posted a $18,000 bond. Hurtig works in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
- Mark Spatz
Facing 13 charges including illegal interception of communication and fraudulent patient brokering. He has since posted a $13,000 bond. Spatz works in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
- Vincent Pravato
Facing three charges including obtaining property communication by fraud and violating patient brokering laws. He has since posted a $2,750 bond. Pravato works in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
As of the writing of the article, any mention of these attorneys has been removed by their respective firms from their websites and social media accounts.
What are kickbacks?
Kickbacks are a scheme in which a person or business pays someone to find them new clients or pays the person a percentage of their profit for finding them a client. (Think: illegal commission, bonus, rebate, bribe, etc.) This procedure is commonly associated with lawyers or doctors’ offices who are prohibited by Florida law from paying people to solicit new clients.
Florida’s anti-kickback statutes are designed to prohibit illegal “patient referrals between health care providers and entities providing health care services” for financial gain. Florida’s anti-Kickback laws apply to all healthcare service providers.
This activity is not only banned by the Florida and American Bar, but is also illegal by Florida and U.S. law.
The activity may be known as illegal solicitation, kickbacks, or patient brokering; and may refer to healthcare professionals or attorneys.
The most logical reason this activity is illegal, especially with regard to attorneys, is because of a simple reason: taking away choice. By soliciting a person in crisis, like a person who was just in a major car accident, you are taking advantage of them. Likewise, by the very nature of the crime, the people soliciting the client for the attorney (known as runners) do not offer options. Therefore, the clients do not have the time to carefully consider and research their choice.
What kind of scheme were the four attorneys operating?
The kickback scheme ran by the four South Florida attorneys worked by using illegal runners who happen to be an optimal position to take advantage of potential victims. These lawyers would pay cash to tow truck and body shop employees (the runners in this case) to tell the car crash victims to go to these specific attorneys.
Presumably, this comes off to the victim as great advice, since the tow truck driver or body shop employee has daily experience with serious car accidents, and therefore must know what they are talking about. It is this misleading act that makes this a crime.
In effect, this lawyers were doing something more commonly known to the public, called “ambulance chasing”. This act involves an attorney soliciting their legal services to someone in duress. These attorneys just found more effective ways to do this by paying the people who are already called to the worst accident scenes. [See: ABA Rule on Direct Contact].
The incriminated lawyers would then send their illegally acquired clients for medical treatment to healthcare facilities with which they also had a sleazy deal worked out. These clinics, specifically Margate Physicians and Broward Spine Associates, which in turn pay the attorneys cash for the referrals.
Of course, this is also illegal both in Florida and federally; again, since patients have a right to make an informed decision about their healthcare provider, as well as, it being illegal to pay for patients.
Once the victim is a patient at the healthcare facility, they can begin using the illegally obtained client to start billing their PIP insurance. This sheds light on why a healthcare facility might be willing to pay cash for a patient.
It is unclear as of the writing of this article if anyone in healthcare facilities will be charged or fined.
Additionally, Adam Hurtig has been charged further with fraud for “misappropriating his clients’ settlement funds.” Hurtig benefitted by signing over his clients’ settlement checks to the healthcare providers, and in return received half the amount in case. (See Florida v. Rubio)