Earnest Gibson III, Riverside's General Hospital's CEO of more than 30 years, was convicted Monday of conspiring to buy and sell patients in a Medicare and Medicaid scam that siphoned $158 million from government coffers.
Also convicted and awaiting sentencing are his son Earnest Gibson IV, Riverside auditor Regina Askew and Robert Crane, a shuttle driver. Federal prosecutors stated in trial that Crane admitted to an investigating officer he was in the business of referring clients to Riverside's drug and mental health treatment program in return for cash, and then Askew would furnish the paperwork to cover up any wrongdoing. Investigators said inconsistencies in the hospital's books proved that so-called hourly marketers were really headhunters paid a flat rate for every patient they enrolled at Riverside.
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There was less evidence to pinpoint the exact role of the Gibsons, who worked higher on the administrative chain. Defense attorneys claimed that both men were the victims of slander by state witnesses who stood to reduce their own prison sentences by snitching on whoever was most convenient as a scapegoat. Prosecutors argued that because of the extreme scope of the scheme, which involved billing Medicare for imaginary doctor visits to absent patients over a span of many years, the hospital's top administrators had to have suspected.
The convictions come at a time when the future of the hospital itself is unclear. A historic Third Ward institution, Riverside had run one of the largest drug recovery programs in the state before federal investigators cracked down in 2012. Since then, the once-sprawling hospital system has lost all its government funding, reducing its treatment offerings to a single campus.
Though creditors requested the appointment of three conservators -- Gerry Hilliard, former state representative Ron Wilson and the Rev. Manson Johnson -- to keep the hospital afloat, the conservators maintained Gibson's innocence throughout the investigation and even asked federal Judge Lee Rosenthal to let them consult the veteran administrator for financial advice.
Rosenthal is expected to sentence the four later this week.