Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento nurse pleads guilty as feds dig into $31 million Medicare kickback scheme

A nursing care coordinator at Sacramento’s Mercy General Hospital pleaded guilty Thursday in a sprawling Medicare kickback scheme and is now cooperating with federal investigators.

John Eby, 46, pleaded guilty in federal court in Sacramento to two counts charging him with receiving kickbacks in a scheme that investigators say involved more than 8,000 claims made to Medicare that cost the program $31 million.

Eby’s plea agreement calls for him to cooperate with investigators probing the case, and his attorney, William Portanova, said he already has been.

“It’s just said to see young people give into the temptation of kickbacks,” Portanova said after court. “They seem harmless at the time, but institutionally they add up to tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars of taxpayer money.

“It’s just so sad to see young people get pulled in at such a low level.”

Eby, who could face up to 10 years in prison, was accused of steering patients who were being discharged to specific hospice or home health care providers in exchange for kickbacks.

The charges against Eby, which were filed last month, do not name Mercy General, referring only to “Hospital 1” in court documents. Dignity Health, which runs Mercy General, did not respond to requests for comment.

Medicare, a federal health care program for citizens 65 and older and other individuals with select disabilities, also has declined to comment on pending legal matters.

Court documents say co-conspirators in the case include health care agencies in Folsom and El Dorado Hills, a Folsom hospice provider and a marketer.

Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.