A Palm Beach County, Florida, doctor at the center of a massive health care fraud scheme that victimized patients seeking help for substance abuse -- including the son of longtime Detroit Red Wings play-by-play announcer Ken Daniels -- has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud.
Michael Ligotti, 48, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after entering his plea Tuesday in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach.
The plea provided at least some comfort for Daniels, who has called Red Wings games since 1997, and his ex-wife.
"From my perspective, this isn't about fraud. It's about death and this guy's total disregard of human life," Daniels told ESPN on Wednesday.
On Dec. 7, 2016, Ken Daniels was the first person in his family to learn that his son, Jamie, had died in a South Florida sober home. Jamie died of an overdose of heroin that had been laced with fentanyl, a synthetic and far more potent form of the drug, according to an autopsy report and death certificate. He was 23.
Jamie Daniels, who was survived by his parents and younger sister, Arlyn, had been addicted to prescription opioids such as Vicodin and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax.
"This has been a long time coming," Jamie's mother, Lisa Daniels Goldman, told ESPN of her reaction to Ligotti's guilty plea. "There is nothing which can be done to bring back our son and fully heal our family, but knowing Ligotti will now spend up to 20 years in prison makes me feel Jamie got a little justice."
In July 2020, Ligotti, who had treated Jamie Daniels and thousands of other patients in recovery, was charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud. A criminal complaint alleged that from May 2011 through March 2020, Ligotti billed private insurance companies and Medicare approximately $681 million for laboratory testing claims and other services as part of a fraudulent scheme, for which he was paid approximately $121 million.
According to court filings related to the guilty plea, had the case gone to trial, Ligotti would have admitted that he "signed standing orders authorizing expensive and medically unnecessary definitive urine tests for patients multiple times a week," a practice the doctor had denied participating in during a 2018 interview with E:60.
"From my perspective, this isn't about fraud. It's about death and this guy's total disregard of human life." Red Wings play-by-play announcer Ken Daniels
Medical records reviewed by ESPN revealed that in Jamie's case specimens for three separate urine tests authorized by Ligotti were collected in Florida in late November 2016, despite the fact that Jamie wasn't in Florida on those dates. He was visiting family in Michigan over Thanksgiving, which ESPN confirmed after reviewing plane tickets and date-stamped photographs.
"Unfortunately, in 2016, sending our beautiful boy to Florida after he asked to go to rehab, we had no idea about the seedy, greedy side of the recovery business, of profit over life," Ken Daniels said.
Asked in 2018 why he would order drug tests on dates when a patient wasn't physically present to provide a sample, Ligotti told ESPN that such a request "would absolutely be fraudulent," explained that he was the victim of identity theft and said somebody had stolen the ID number he uses to authorize drug treatment and testing.
Through court filings, Ligotti admitted that explanation was untrue.
In their criminal case against Ligotti, prosecutors detailed how he became the "medical director" for more than 50 addiction treatment facilities or sober homes and repeatedly authorized "bogus" tests and treatments -- billing for urine tests, blood tests, office visits and therapy sessions whether they were needed or not and, in some cases, whether or not they actually happened.
Ken Daniels' insurance provider determined it had been billed for roughly $60,000 in fraudulent charges from various facilities that claimed to house and treat Jamie Daniels. Most of those charges were for urine tests, authorized by Ligotti and completed over a two-month period in the fall of 2016.
Ligotti's sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 13.
Lisa Daniels Goldman plans to be in the courtroom for the hearing and has been asked to read a victim impact statement. Ken Daniels is conflicted about whether to attend the hearing; he is scheduled to call the game in Detroit that night between the Red Wings and the Carolina Hurricanes.