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Surgeon faces kickback suit over fiancee referrals

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - A neurosurgeon and Cape Girardeau property owner faces federal charges of improperly steering medical equipment referrals to a shell company he operated with his fiancee.

A five-count complaint alleges Dr. Sonjay Fonn and Deborah Seeger violated a federal anti-kickback law that seeks to prevent conflicts of interest and overuse of medical services, the Southeast Missourian reported. Fonn's charges include two counts of submitting false Medicaid and Medicare claims.

A competing medical group filed the initial lawsuit under the False Claims Act in January 2012. The case was sealed until this month, when it was unsealed and dismissed. Federal prosecutors then refiled the suit on behalf of the government.

The lawsuit says the couple lives in a house bought with more than $284,000 in commissions received by Seeger's business, DS Medical.

The unidentified Cape Girardeau hospital where Fonn performed spinal implant fusion surgeries allowed doctors conducting that procedure to select their own vendors.

The hospital paid for the implants, and implant distributors received commissions from the manufacturers.

Defense attorneys call the suit over Fonn's use of spinal implants baseless.

"We are fully confident it was without merit, and we look forward to our day in court," said James Martin of St. Louis, who represents Fonn.

"... We also feel it's important to note that this lawsuit was started by competitors of Dr. Fonn. We think that fact speaks for itself."

Fonn and Seeger ran DS Medical as a joint venture with profit margins up to 95 percent, according to the lawsuit, which attributed the company's "extraordinary financial success" to Fonn's use of DS Medical as his "virtually exclusive source of spinal implants and related products."

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