A former employee of the Hudson County Office of Aging has pleaded guilty to being bribed $2,200 in exchange for patient referrals, five months after being charged with the crime, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Myrtha Nicolas, 61, of Jersey City, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Katherine Hayden in Newark federal court to one count of extortion under color of official right earlier today.
She used to work for the Hudson County Office on Aging, an agency of the New Jersey Division of Disability Services (DDS) in the Department of Human Services.
The DDS works to streamline access to services and information designed to promote and enhance independent living for individuals with disabilities.
Included among these services coordinated by DDS were Managed Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS), which provide comprehensive service and support, whether for an individual living at home, in an assisted living facility, or a nursing home.
Nicolas was employed as a referral coordinator at the Hudson County Office on Aging and she exercised control over the coordination and assignment of patients with disabilities in need of home health care services to home health care companies which provide these services through home health care aides.
In June 2016, Nicolas was approached by a confidential witness (CW), who was a self-employed executive of a home health care company that provided various services, including the training, hiring and assignment of home health care aides to patients with disabilities.
Nicolas agreed to help refer patients to the CW and agreed to accept $500 dollars per patient she referred to the CW’s company, according to court documents.
On Aug. 4, 2016, Nicolas accepted a payment of $600 for the referral of a patient. The CW complained that the CW was forced to redirect the patient to another health care company because the patient proved difficult, prompting Nicolas to assure the CW that the CW “will get the easy ones,” in the future, officials said.
On Jan. 23, 2017, Nicolas accepted another $600 cash payment for a patient referral. Nicolas confirmed that she had previously received gift cards from the CW, but expressed no preference whether future payments from the CW in exchange for patient referrals would be in cash or gift cards.
Finally, on Oct. 17, 2017, Nicolas accepted a final corrupt payment of $1,000 from the CW for patient referrals, promising the CW that in terms of future patients, “whatever I have, you’ll have.”
The extortion under color of official right charge carries a maximum potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss.
Nicolas’ sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 15, 2020.