UPDATE: Monroe doctor responds to Dept. of Justice allegations

Dr. Gregory Sampognaro, of Monroe, was accused of referring people for genetic testing in exchange for kickbacks from a Seattle-area testing company. (Source: MGN)

MONROE, La. (KNOE) - A Monroe doctor has responded to allegations presented by the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with a settlement regarding payments from a genetic testing company.

The following statement was sent to KNOE Wednesday morning after the U.S. Department of Justice reported on Tuesday that Dr. Gregory Sampognaro was among multiple doctors who have agreed to pay a total of $1.1 million dollars to resolve allegations that they referred people for genetic testing in exchange for kickbacks from a Seattle-area testing company.

Here is Dr. Sampognero's message in its entirety.

"I have had the privilege of serving patients in our community for more than 20 years. Recently, local news media outlets have released an article regarding me without once reaching out to me for a statement. I want to set the record straight.

"To be clear: This was purely a civil issue and the fact that I settled is not an admission of wrongdoing. I chose to settle because it was far less expensive than the cost of my legal team fighting it in federal court. The actual amount of money my practice received from Natural Molecular Testing Corporation (NMTC) was far less than the settlement amount.

"I want you, my community, to have the facts and full story. In 2012, My practice became involved with Natural Molecular Testing Corporation (NMTC) because it was providing a cutting edge genetic testing service, with similar testing now considered the standard of care in many patient situations. At the time we were most interested in Plavix metabolism with my patients’ best interest in mind.

"Also of interest to us was NMTC’s offer to become part of a national research registry that promised to provide profiles of my patients and practice against national experience. NMTC paid modest fees for the practice’s overhead cost for inputting data into the registry. This was a national registry and many physicians across the country were involved and compensated in the same fashion, including other physicians in our community.

"At no time was my practice involved in billing for the genetic testing to Medicare nor did the practice ever receive any such funds from Medicare in this matter, and the settlement with the government was many multiples of the amount of money paid to the practice by NMTC. I fully cooperated with the government’s investigation of NMTC.

"Although I fully disagreed with the government’s position, they ultimately offered a settlement that was substantially below my projected costs of taking my litigation against the government. I decided to put this matter behind me so I could focus on providing the best care to my patients, as I have done over the past 20 years.

"I would like to thank everyone for their support, thoughts and prayers."

Greg Sampognaro, MD

According to the Dept. of Justice, Dr. Warren Strickland and Dr. Isabella Strickland of Huntsville, Alabama, and a cardiac center, Cardiology P.C. of Birmingham, Alabama, were also involved in the settlement.

According to the settlement described by the Justice Dept., the alleged activity happened in 2012 and 2013. The Justice Dept. says that the doctors were alleged to have accepted payments from a now-defunct testing company called Natural Molecular Testing Corporation in return for ordering the tests. NMTC then billed Medicare for the testing. The Dept. of Justice says that the scheme was alleged to be in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute and the civil False Claims Act.

“Providers who line their pockets by ordering unnecessary tests increase medical costs for all of us and drain critical funds from Medicare and other government health programs,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “The government will continue to hold accountable medical professionals who undermine our healthcare system by accepting illegal kickbacks.”

To resolve the allegations, Dr. Gregory Sampognaro will pay $519,750, Dr. Warren Strickland will pay $95,053, Dr. Isabella Strickland will pay $107,900, and Cardiology P.C. will pay $411,300.

The Dept. of Justice says the claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

The Dept. of Justice says NMTC declared bankruptcy in 2013 and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has an unsecured claim against NMTC for $70 million - money they don't expect to get back.