CLEVELAND, Ohio Oct 26 2016— Former MetroHealth System executive Edward Hills was arrested Tuesday morning, following a grand jury's indictment of him and three others in a racketeering and corruption case involving the hospital's Department of Oral Health and Dentistry.
Prosecutors accuse them of giving and taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, as well as airplane tickets, a flatscreen TV and a Louis Vuitton briefcase. Their schemes touched upon the hospital system's residency program, as well as remedial training required for dentists by the Ohio State Dental Board, according to court filings.
FBI agents arrested the 56-year-old at his home in Aurora. Three dentists, Sari Alqsous, 32, of Cleveland, Yazan Al-Madani, 32, of Westlake, and Tariq Sayegh, 38, of Cleveland were also arrested.
The quartet faces dozens of charges laid out in a 93-page indictment, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery, conspiracy to obstruct justice and tamper with witnesses, receipt of kickbacks, and making false statements on tax returns. U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the schemes totaled $250,000.
Hills was with MetroHealth for more than two decades and served as its COO from 2010 to 2014, when he left MetroHealth. He was also the hospital system's interim chief executive officer for six months following Mark Moran's departure and before the hiring of current CEO Akram Boutros.
He was appointed to the Dental Board in 1999 and served for nine years. He served as the board's president between 2001 and 2004.
Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh are former residents and dentists at MetroHealth, the hospital system has said.
The quartet and others have been at the center of an FBI and IRS investigation for more than two years. Investigators say their conduct started in 2008, while federal agents were still investigating corruption in all facets of Cuyahoga County.
Rendon told reporters during Tuesday's news conference that Hills' actions took place "at a time when all of you were covering such similar conduct committed by other public officials." FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Todd Wickerham also said at the news conference that MetroHealth reported the criminal activity to authorities and that it is the victim of the quartet's crimes.
Federal prosecutors say Hills and the trio, which he referred to as "my three sons," concocted a series of schemes to accept bribes while working in the upper reaches of the hospital system's network.
Beginning in 2009, Alqsous, Al-Makani and Sayegh gave Hills bribes. The quartet referred to the illegal payments as "thing," "something," "fundraisers" or "presents" and would try to tie them to Hills' birthday or the holiday season, the indictment says.
In return, Hills, as a MetroHealth official, allowed them to work at private dental clinics while still receiving a full-time salary from the hospital system. He also arranged for them to receive extra bonuses totaling $93,000 in bonuses between 2010 and 2014, prosecutors say.
Among the bribes Hills accepted were cash, plane tickets, an Apple laptop for a woman with whom he had a relationship, a $3,000 flatscreen television, and a $3,879 Louis Vuitton briefcase he wanted "because his predecessor at MetroHealth had a similar briefcase." He was also given access to a luxury apartment in Cleveland's Warehouse District, rented by Alqsous to entertain his female friend, prosecutors say.
Hills even had Alqsous, the apartment's tenant, purchase furniture, and stated in a 2013 text to Hills that "I bought your bedroom yesterday ... there is mirrors everywhere ... you will like it," the indictment says.
In return, Hills allowed Alqsous and Al-Makani use MetroHealth dental residents at their private clinic. They also paid $17,600 bribes to hills to have him refer Medicaid patients to Al-Madani and Alqsous' dental clinics, the indictment says.
Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh also solicited at least $75,000 in bribes from those trying to get into MetroHealth's dental residency program from overseas. They identified and selected candidates from Jordan and told them they would have to pay a "donation" to be considered. Instead of going to MetroHealth, though, the "donation" went to them or Hills, the indictment says.
Hills also formed a company to provide remedial training for dentists. He then worked with the former executive director of the Dental Board to ensure the company, the Woodmere-based Oral Health Enrichment, would receive clients for remedial training, the indictment says.
All of this happened using MetroHealth resources, according to the indictment.
The indictment does not name the former executive of the dental board, but Lili Reitz served in that position in the referenced. She resigned last year.
The indictment also says the person who formed Oral Health Enrichment with Hills, who is not named but is shown in records to be Julia Solooki, is cooperating with prosecutors.
When Hills, Alqsous and Al-Madani, found out about the criminal investigation in 2014, they conspired to obstruct justice as well, prosecutors said. Hills, in a conversation with Alqsous, Al-Madani and a dentist who cooperated with prosecutors, said that "the s--- we got ourselves in this year is because motherf------ running they mouth snitching ...", the indictment says.
Some of the schemes occurred while Hills was the interim president of MetroHealth, while he committed were while he held other executive positions, the indictment says.
The investigation into Hills and MetroHealth's dentistry department was made public in September 2015, when cleveland.com reported that federal agents searched Hills's home.
New documents — including subpoenas and proceedings in civil court — offer insights into the acrimony between the MetroHealth System and former executive Edward Hills, whose home and business were subject of search warrants last year.
Hills filed suit against MetroHealth in late 2015, after the raid on his house went public, saying the hospital system violated his separation agreement by releasing a statement about FBI and IRS agents searching his house. MetroHealth denied this and countersued, saying Hills breached the agreement by sending a disparaging letter that is a public record.
Cleveland.com has requested that MetroHealth provide a copy of Hills' separation agreement. The hospital has refused to provide it, claiming a county judge's seal in corresponding civil litigation removes the record from public view.
The new case is not the first time the hospital system, which is operated with public and private money, has been at the center of a corruption probe. Notably, former MetroHealth construction manager Thomas Greco and former Vice President John Carroll are serving nine-year prison sentences for accepting bribes from contractors in exchange for construction work.
When Forbes magazine ranked Cleveland as one of America's least desirable cities, former MetroHealth executive John Carroll said he felt partly to blame. That's because corruption was cited as one of the community's flaws and Carroll knew he had contributed to that image.
MetroHealth released a statement Tuesday saying the hospital system cooperated with the FBI in its investigation and that it "holds all of its employees to the highest ethical standards."
Boutros, the hospital system's CEO, also sent a letter to employees that said he was "sad and disheartened" to hear of the charges.