Texas nurses sent to federal prison for kickback scheme, ordered to pay more than $1.4M

Authorities say they received patient referrals by paying marketers and patients


HOUSTON – Two Texas nurses who owned a healthcare services business have been sentenced to prison for a kickback scheme, federal authorities say.

Joseph Nwankwo, 59, of Houston, and Stacey Ajaja, 51, of Richmond, were sentenced to 36 months and 14 months in prison, respectively, on Monday, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Authorities say that from 2014 to 2016, Nwankwo and Ajaja received patient referrals by paying marketers and patients. Nwankwo also admitted to bribing a physician to allow “medically unnecessary” services for patients at Hefty Healthcare Services Inc., the business he owned with Ajaja, the release states.

They pleaded guilty in 2022 to conspiracy to defraud the United States and paying and receiving illegal health care kickbacks.

Following their sentence, they will have to complete three years of supervised release. Nwankwo was ordered to pay $1,218,615 and Ajaja was ordered to pay $238,164 in restitution to Medicare.

They have been allowed to remain out on bond until they surrender at a federal prison, which will be set at a later date.

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Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.