Fugitive Georgia lab ‘kingpin’ smuggled millions to Middle East, court records allege

His disappearance in December is the latest twist in saga of Khalid Satary’s history with federal authorities
ajc.com

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

U.S. District Court Judge Wendy Vitter opened the hearing with a bit of judicial theater, asking a member of her staff present in her New Orleans courtroom to go into the hall and call out for Khalid Satary.

“Is anybody in the hallway?” Vitter asked.

“No ma’am,” the staffer replied.

It would have been a surprise had Satary answered.

No one — not his attorneys, his federal probation officer or the FBI — had seen or heard from him in days. The former Lawrenceville businessman who built a network of diagnostic laboratories from Georgia to Florida to Oklahoma was facing felony health care fraud charges for a scheme which prosecutors alleged cost taxpayers hundreds of millions in illegal Medicare reimbursements.

Following the hearing last December, Vitter declared Satary a federal fugitive and the FBI quickly added him to the agency’s infamous “Ten Most Wanted” list. The listing noted the 51-year-old Satary’s ties to Atlanta, Houston, South Florida and Dubai, but documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show his most significant connections are in the Middle Eastern country of Jordan.

Jordanian court records reviewed by the AJC detail an alleged scheme by Satary to secretly move millions of his vast fortune offshore using intermediaries in the United States and the Middle East. The records provided by Hussam Abdallat, a Jordanian anti-corruption activist living in exile in London, document the arrests of at least 10 Jordanian citizens on money laundering charges, including a high-ranking customs official, a diplomat and a lawyer, all of whom prosecutors claim were part of Satary’s scheme. Abdallat told the AJC the conspiracy goes to the very top of Jordanian politics and government.

There also are pending Jordanian arrest warrants for Satary and his 28-year-old son, whose first name is Jordan. Lawyers for both Khalid and Jordan Satary declined to comment for this story.

Jordanian investigators allege that Satary’s co-conspirators received up to $10 million in bank transfers from Lawrenceville-based Shiraz Holdings, one of the many companies Satary founded over the past decade, with the aid of associates in Georgia. According to the documents, the money transfers occurred in 2016 a few months before the FBI raided one of Satary’s Gwinnett County labs. That lab later filed for bankruptcy.

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The revelations are the latest in a decades-long saga involving the Satary family, a story that includes prior criminal enterprises, multiple FBI raids, and lavish spending on mansions and luxury cars — all of which occurred largely in public view.

Satary has been under near-constant investigation by federal authorities since an AJC investigation into a 2014 campaign fundraiser for then-U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston. Satary’s employees said their boss gave them “bonuses” with instructions to pass the money along to the Kingston campaign, an apparent violation of campaign finance laws. Kingston returned the money after the AJC published its investigation, but Satary was never held accountable.

Satary’s checkered past, foreign ties and ability to move money between banks using family members and business associates to cover his tracks was exactly why U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors in 2019 wanted him held in jail pending trial. Instead, a federal judge allowed him to post bond and travel freely around the United States for years while his charges inched through the legal system.

Now he and millions of taxpayer dollars are missing.

Journey to America

Born in Gaza in 1972, Satary lived his early years in that Palestinian territory, but moved with family to Dubai where he spent the rest of his childhood as the Persian Gulf city transformed into a center of opulence and wealth. Satary came to the United States in 1992 on a student visa, eventually settling in metro Atlanta.

Satary’s first trouble with the law came in 2003 when he was arrested on federal charges of music piracy and violating copyright law for operating a massive counterfeit music CD ring.

He agreed to a plea deal in 2005 and served more than three years in federal prison. When he got out, he opened a series of clinics and diagnostic laboratories, each of which billed millions to Medicare and Medicaid. By 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid listed Confirmatrix, Satary’s primary lab in Lawrenceville, as the nation’s most expensive to taxpayers.

U.S. Rep Jack Kingston poses with senior employees of Confirmatrix Dec. 6, 2013, in Lawrenceville. The company was founded with help from Khalid Satary, a former Gwinnett businessman now labeled a federal fugitive. GwinnettForum.com

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The lucrative testing businesses made Satary wealthy and he liked to display his success, spending millions on luxury cars and massive homes in Gwinnett County and South Florida.

Then in 2017, at the height of the opioid epidemic, federal investigators raided one of Satary’s Lawrenceville labs as part of a investigation into a string of East Tennessee “pill mills,” shady clinics that were the lynchpin for the distribution of the highly addictive pain medications.

Court records claimed Satary’s lab paid bribes and kickbacks to the pill mills in exchange for the right to process patients’ urine samples, which could then be billed back to Medicare. Satary was never charged in the investigation. Undeterred, he shifted his lab business to focus on processing DNA samples to screen patients for possible cancer risks.

‘Kingpin of this organization’

Credit: HHS & FBI

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Credit: HHS & FBI

Satary ramped up work in a new Lawrenceville lab and bought labs in other states. Prosecutors allege the DNA tests were marketed to senior citizens at “health fairs” or over the phone, even to those who had no particular risk for cancer.

The scheme was lucrative, but brought more federal attention.

In 2019, Satary was swept up in a multi-state federal investigation known as “Operation Double Helix” aimed at cracking down on fraudulent reimbursements for genetic tests.

Federal court records accused him of perpetrating a massive fraud on taxpayers, using his network of labs to process medically unnecessary cancer screenings, billing Medicare for reimbursement up to $10,000 per test, and then paying kickbacks to others in the alleged scheme.

The alleged fraud was substantial. According to prosecutors, Satary’s labs in Georgia, Oklahoma and Louisiana went from never having submitted a claim to Medicare in 2017 to billing the federal government $500 million by 2019, of which the labs received $200 million in reimbursements.

While Satary has yet to be tried, other defendants have pleaded guilty and confessed to working with him. Those admissions, records show, suggest Satary had a complex web of associates to solicit patients and get them processed in his labs.

The prosecution says there is a “mountain of evidence” in the case against Satary, including undercover recordings that cooperating witnesses made of conversations with Satary.

“This was a massive fraud, and the evidence points to Mr. Satary as being the kingpin of this organization,” Timothy Loper, an attorney for the Justice Department’s fraud section, said at a bond hearing in October 2019.

ajc.com

Credit: CHris Joyner & Pete Corson

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Credit: CHris Joyner & Pete Corson

According to prosecutors, Satary hid his ownership in companies by placing them in the names of family members, using multiple bank accounts to cover his tracks.

Following his 2019 arrest, investigators rushed to seize funds in his many interconnected bank accounts, but prosecutors said millions already had been moved.

“Mr. Satary knows how to hide money,” Loper said.

Middle East misadventures

Court documents and testimony suggest Satary has connections and associates across the Middle East. Those relationships played a critical role in his efforts to move millions into Jordan, records show.

Hanna Emtairah, a defendant in the money laundering case in Jordan, testified that she and her husband, a high-ranking Jordanian customs official, met Satary more than two decades ago while visiting her family in America.

“While there, I found Satary didn’t have an American citizenship and said that he was looking for a country to invest in and move his investments to and that he was thinking of moving to Jordan,” she said, according to the court records.

Years later, Emtairah’s husband acted as Satary’s representative in Jordan, receiving money and purchasing real estate on his behalf.

One of the men named in the Jordanian investigation as aiding the money laundering operation is Gwinnett County businessman Mohd Al-Baghdadi, who in 2016 wired $3.5 million from a Satary-controlled company in the U.S. to an investor in Jordan. Al-Baghdadi, who was born in Jordan before immigrating to America decades ago, said Satary asked him to help him move the money which was to be put into investments in Jordan.

“I’m one of his closest friends, and I’ll do anything for my friend,” he said when asked by the AJC why he helped with the transfer of such a large sum. In total, Satary moved at least $30 million from the United States to Jordan using other intermediaries in other countries, he said.

Credit: submitted

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Credit: submitted

Credit: special

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Credit: special

Al-Baghdadi, who met Satary when they both lived in Tennessee, described his friend as a genius with a magnetic personality. Satary’s weakness was that he had to be “the star of the show,” he said.

“I used to tell him, ‘Khalid, you’re just too much. Settle down with one thing and be happy with it,’” he said. “And he is the star. In the eye of the government, he is the star now.”

Al-Baghdadi said he has since been contacted by the FBI and was interviewed at length by Jordanian intelligence officials when he went to the country to visit family in 2016 after assisting with the wire transfers. He said he was questioned by Jordanian officials for hours every day for a week about his relationship with Satary and the wire transfers.

Al-Baghdadi said Satary had highly placed contacts in Jordan, including members of the inner circle of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, who were assisting him in moving money out of the United States. Much of the money ended up stolen, he said.

Satary has hinted at some of these problems in U.S. court filings. The story matches a 2018 filing in Florida bankruptcy court for one of the companies Satary allegedly used to transfer money to Jordan. The company claims it lost $12 million in a “scam” involving individuals in Jordan who face criminal charges there, according to court records.

“They stole the money from him, and they accuse him of laundering money,” Al-Baghdadi said.

Abdallat, the Jordanian reformer, said he met in 2016 with some of the Jordanians accused in the money laundering scheme and later discussed the case with top intelligence officials, including the then-chief of General Intelligence Directorate, Jordan’s intelligence service. He said those sources told him that intelligence officers and high-ranking government officials were involved in stealing some of Satary’s money, but that it was covered up in court.

A ‘history of deceit’

Given his long and dubious career, it is curious the U.S. federal courts allowed Satary so much freedom before he disappeared in December. The pending health care fraud charges from his 2019 arrest carry the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence should he be found guilty.

Indeed, federal prosecutors sought to keep Satary in jail while awaiting trial, citing his significant fortune and attempt to obtain a Jordanian passport on the black market in 2016.

Loper, the Justice Department prosecutor in the case, urged a federal judge at a 2019 hearing not to grant bond in the case, pointing to Satary’s “history of deceit” and ties to people overseas. With his resources and connections, Satary was a serious flight risk, he said.

“It’s not that difficult, when you have $20 million at your disposal, to get out of this country when you’re looking at decades in prison,” he said.

Federal authorities declared Khalid Satary a fugitive in December 2022. (Facebook)

Credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation

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Credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation

But Satary’s defense attorneys argued that their client was no threat to flee. He knew he was under investigation for months prior to his arrest and made no attempt to disappear. He had no passport, no driver’s license and no other country would take him, his attorney told U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby at the 2019 bond hearing.

That line of reasoning seemed persuasive to the judge, who ordered Satary released with no domestic travel restrictions.

Prosecutors appealed the decision. The following week, Judge Vitter, who is overseeing the trial, agreed to release Satary but confined his movements to the northern district of Georgia. The judge set the bond at $500,000, which Satary put up in cash.

“It's not that difficult, when you have $20 million at your disposal, to get out of this country when you're looking at decades in prison."

- Timothy Loper, an attorney for the Justice Department’s fraud section

Since then, as the case was slowed by the pandemic and the complexity of the charges, Satary successfully appealed to the court for looser and looser bond restrictions.

His revised bond conditions allowed him to travel, virtually at will, throughout the country for his new business venture, a company that booked and promoted concerts for popular Arab singers and musicians around the United States.

Today, there is no indication that officials either in the United States or Jordan know where he or millions in American taxpayer money have gone. The U.S. departments of state and justice declined to comment on this story.

To date, the federal government has charged 35 people, including Satary, for billing a combined $2.1 billion in unnecessary genetic tests, $300 million of which has been recovered, according to the Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services.

While Jordanian officials have issued a warrant for the arrest of Jordan Satary, he faces no charges here. The younger Satary maintains an active presence on social media, promoting his father’s remaining business interests and his own love of luxury vehicles.

Al-Baghdadi, Khalid Satary’s longtime friend, said prosecutors may believe Satary broke the law, but he said his friend just took advantage of a loophole, like the wealthy do in America.

“Rich people use the system to make money,” Al-Baghdadi said.

As for Satary’s whereabouts, Al-Baghdadi said he has no idea where he could be, adding:

“I know he did whatever he did, but as a friend that I know for so many years, I really miss him.”

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