As federal authorities continue to search for her husband, the co-owner of a former Totowa test-preparation business yesterday was sentenced to time served for secretly recording medical licensing exam questions.
Egika Kuka – who was extradited in October after fleeing the country — also is expected to be deported to her native Latvia.
Kuka pleaded guilty in December to two counts of a federal indictment charging her with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and cooperated with the government in its case against her ex-husband, Eihab Suliman, who ran the Optima University test preparation service. He is believed to be somewhere in Egypt and remains a fugitive.
Aware that federal investigators were on their tale, both Kuka and Suliman fled their home in Elizabeth in 2011. Latvian authorities later found Kuka in the village of Limbazi, where she grew up.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said the couple swiped the questions from the National Board of Medical Examiners (“NBME”) and used them in their preparation courses for the exams, which physicians seeking licenses throughout the United States are required to pass.
Although they lived in Union County, their headquarters was at the same Route 46 address in Passaic County as Islamic Relief USA and the Islamic Education Foundation, both service organizations.
“State medical boards protect the public by permitting only individuals who have met strict criteria to practice medicine,” Fishman said. By taking the questions, he said, the couple “made it possible for their customers to pass the boards without the minimal knowledge and skills for safe and effective practice.”
Customers who paid the $5,000 for the course complained online about Optima failing to abide by a “100% money back” guarantee for those who take Step 1 of the exam. They also called the company’s 98% pass rate “a fabrication.”
Six months ago, Kuka admitted in federal court that she posed as a foreign-trained doctor – submitting a phony medical degree — in order to steal and reproduce the test questions.
Federal authorities said she’d done the same thing years earlier, claiming to have been graduated from the University of Oradea, an accredited medical school in Romania, with a Doctorate in Medicine degree.
A fabricated diploma initially was rejected because it wasn’t in English, the government said, adding that Kuka and Suliman resubmitted another phony in English.
Surveillance video caught Kuka recording the live test questions that were displayed on the computer monitor using a small digital device in Milan in April 2008. It was the first of three tests she took there over the next month.
Unusually low scores prompted medical authorities to investigate.
Kuka confessed to the crimes and said she gave the recorder to her then-husband, who sent them on to someone at Optima. Federal agents found the questions on a computer seized during a search of the Totowa headquarters.
Providers of legitimate review courses create their own test prep materials. Under U.S. copyright laws, test prep companies have no right to use USMLE test items.
Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, for making the case and thanked the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs Criminal Division, as well as Latvian officials, for their assistance.
Prosecuting the case is Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah J. Gannett of Fishman’s Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark.
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