AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Alpharetta firm to pay $1 million to settle kickback case

An Alpharetta company will pay $1 million to settle allegations that it gave kickbacks to medical clinics in return for exclusive contracts.

Another deal: construction of a Marietta surgical center in exchange for exclusive contracts.

A whistleblower brought the case to the government's attention in 2014, filing a lawsuit in federal court that alleged Sweet Dreams had submitted false claims for Medicare and Medicaid payments. Federal law prohibits using taxpayer money to pay for services that arise out of kickback schemes,  U.S. Attorney G.F. “Pete” Peterman of the Middle District of Georgia noted.

The settlement requires Sweet Dreams to pay $1,034,416 to the federal government and 12,078 to Georgia.

"Medical decisions, such as the selection of an anesthesia provider, should not be influenced by the payment or receipt of a kickback," Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said in a written statement.

Whistleblower Adam Nauss, who worked with Sweet Dreams for several years, will get a portion of the settlements. Sweet Dreams also must pay his attorney fees, expenses and costs.

In a news release, the Justice Department noted that Sweet Dreams - which is a series of business entities - fully cooperated in the investigation, which was settled without a finding of liability. The company provides anesthesia services throughout the country, according to court documents.

In a prepared statement, the company notes that it had vigorously denied any wrongdoing. "The decision to enter into the Settlement Agreement was a business decision in order to avoid the costs and expense and hassle of litigating at trial, including legal fees," the statement says.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.