CLEVELAND — An Aurora man and former chief operating officer of the MetroHealth Hospital System has been sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison for an eight-year bribery and kickback scheme.

U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi sentenced 58-year-old Edward R. Hills to 188 months in prison on Wednesday, with restitution to be determined later. The case was filed in October 2016.

His sentence follows his July conviction on charges related to a conspiracy that started in 2008 to defraud MetroHealth and others through bribery, kickbacks, and extortion totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.

A jury found Hills and fellow dentists Sari Alqsous, 34, and Tariq Sayegh, 38, both of Cleveland, and Yazan B. Al-Madani, 34, of Westlake, guilty of criminal charges following a trial last July. Alqsous, Sayegh and Al-Madani are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

Hills worked as MetroHealth’s chief operating officer and director of MetroHealth Dental. He also served as interim president and chief executive officer from December 2012 through July 2013. The other three men were MetroHealth dentists.

Attorneys for Hills and Alqsous could not immediately be reached for comment. Richard Blake, Al-Madani’s attorney, and Richard Drucker, Sayegh’s attorney, said their clients are scheduled for sentencing April 25, but they declined further comment.

A MetroHealth spokeswoman said the hospital system is not releasing any statements on the case.

Hills said he plans to appeal his conviction and has raised more than $22,000 in a campaign.

In a letter to friends on his gofundme page, Hills said he was "shocked" by the verdict, explaining he had been advised by his attorney to "not present a defense" because prosecutors did not prove charges against him.

"During the 21 days of listening and observing the prosecutor’s case, I was also convinced that the alleged charges were not proven and that full acquittal was imminent," he said. "My initial thoughts of the unfair verdict reminded me of pre-civil rights victims and my Southern ancestors. I instantly realized that I must fight for justice and my freedom."

Prosecutors say Hills "violated the trust of taxpayers and the leadership of a hospital dedicated to serving the least among us," according to U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman.

"Dr. Hills earned this prison sentence by putting his greed above all else, soliciting and taking cash, rent payments, plane tickets, an expensive briefcase and other items as bribes," Herdman added.

According to court documents, testimony and documents presented at trial, Hills, Alqsous and Al-Madani engaged in a racketeering conspiracy from 2008 through 2016 involving a series of elaborate bribery conspiracies, witness tampering and other crimes.

Hills was charged with soliciting cash, checks, a $3,879 Louis Vuitton briefcase, a 55-inch television set, airline flights and use of a downtown apartment from Alqsous, Al-Madani and others.

In return, Hills allowed them to work at their private dental businesses during regular business hours while receiving full-time salaries from MetroHealth and arranging higher bonuses for them than they had earned.

Additionally, Alqsous, Al-Madani and Sayegh solicited and accepted bribes from candidates — many from Jordan — to be accepted in the MetroHealth Dental residency program. Prosecutors say the bribes were referred to as "donations" to MetroHealth, totaling at least $75,000 between 2008 and 2014.

In another conspiracy, Al-Madani and Alqsous paid bribes to Hills to have Medicaid recipients referred to their private dental clinics instead of MetroHealth.

Hills, Alqsous and Al-Madani also conspired to obstruct justice, instructing people not to cooperate with law enforcement after becoming aware of the federal investigation in 2014.

Hills also made false statements on tax returns, failing to claim approximately $165,751 in unreported income stemming from bribes, kickbacks and other things of value between 2011 and 2013.

"These four criminals hit Ohio’s taxpayers and healthcare system right in the teeth," said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. "With today’s sentence, justice struck back. I’m pleased our Bureau of Criminal Investigation could assist our law enforcement partners who investigated and prosecuted this case."

Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, or @JeffSaunders_RP.