More than a year since their arrests, two North Jersey chiropractors pleaded guilty this week to accepting cash payments for patient referrals.

From left to right: Christopher Montana, Fernando Barrese (Photo: NJ Office of Attorney General)

Christopher Montana of Morris County and Fernando Barrese of Bergen County admitted that between February and July 2011, they referred approximately 100 patients from their chiropractic facilities for additional services. The referrals were made in exchange for cash kickbacks of $500 per patient.

All of the patients were victims of motor vehicle accidents. Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi called kickbacks "a bane of the auto insurance market."

“Money is a strong incentive that influences doctors to refer their patients for testing, treatment or other services. All of these services are paid for with other people’s insurance premiums. Doctors should base their medical decisions on their patients’ needs, not their own pocketbooks," Chillemi said.

Montana and Barrese are the owners of Chiropractic Centre of Elizabeth, Chiropractic Centre of Newark and Chiropractic Centre of Jersey City. In addition, Barrese owned Wallington Chiropractic Center.

In pleading guilty, the defendants also admitted to failing to report a combined total of more than a million dollars of income on their tax returns.

Sentencing has been scheduled for December 19. Under the plea agreement(s), the state will recommend that the defendants each be sentenced to seven years in state prison and pay a total of $200,000 in restitution to a total of 15 insurance carriers. In addition, each defendant’s chiropractic license will be suspended for 18 months. Montana and Barrese will each be ordered to pay tens of thousands in back taxes, penalties and interest.