Eastern California Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Real Estate Foreclosure Auctions

Eastern California Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Real Estate Foreclosure Auctions

Investigation Has Resulted in 11 Guilty Pleas to Date

WASHINGTON — An Eastern California real estate  investor pleaded guilty today to conspiring to rig bids and commit mail fraud  at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Eastern California, the  Department of Justice announced.

Anthony B. Joachim of Stockton,  Calif., entered his guilty plea in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District  of California in Sacramento.  Joachim was originally indicted by a federal  grand jury in Sacramento on Dec. 7, 2011, along with three other investors –  Andrew B. Katakis, Donald M. Parker and Wiley C. Chandler – and one auctioneer  – W. Theodore Longley. All five individuals were charged with conspiring with  other unnamed co-conspirators to rig bids and commit mail fraud when purchasing  selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin  County, Calif.  The indictment was superseded on May 8, 2013, to include  an obstruction of justice charge against Katakis.  Chandler pleaded guilty  on Feb. 24, 2012, and trial is scheduled to begin against the remaining  individuals on Jan. 28, 2014.

According  to court documents, Joachim conspired with others not to bid against one  another and to instead designate a winning bidder to obtain selected properties  at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin County.  Joachim  was also charged with conspiring to use the mail to carry out a scheme to  fraudulently acquire title to selected San Joaquin County properties sold at  public auctions, to make and receive payoffs and to divert money to  co-conspirators that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and others  by holding second, private auctions open only to members of the  conspiracy.  The department said that the selected properties were then  awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in the second,  private auctions.  The private auctions often took place at or near the  courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.  According to  Joachim’s plea agreement, he participated in the conspiracies between about  April 2009 until about October 2009.

“Today’s  plea is the 11th in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation  of bid rigging and fraud involving real estate foreclosure auctions in the  Eastern District of California,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in  charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The division  has uncovered similar schemes across the country and continues to prosecute  those who profit by undermining competition at real estate foreclosure  auctions.”

The  department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress  and restrain competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain selected  real estate offered at San Joaquin County public foreclosure auctions at  non-competitive prices.  When real estate properties are sold at these  auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached  to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.   According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money that  otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt  secured by the properties, and in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.

“My office will continue to fight  real estate fraud in all its forms, including bringing to justice those who  would subvert public foreclosure auctions for their own personal gain,” said United States Attorney Benjamin B.  Wagner of the Eastern District of California.

Joachim pleaded guilty to bid  rigging, a violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10  years in prison and a $1 million fine.  The maximum fine may be increased  to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the  victims of the crime if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory  maximum fine.  Joachim also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail  fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million  fine.                 The guilty plea entered today is  the latest in the department’s ongoing federal antitrust investigation of fraud  and bidding irregularities in certain real estate auctions in San Joaquin  County.  The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s  San Francisco office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of  California, the FBI’s Sacramento Division and the San Joaquin County District  Attorney’s Office.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or  fraud related to real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust  Division’s San Francisco office at 415-436-6660, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm,  contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California at  916-554-2700 or contact the FBI’s Sacramento Division at 916-481-9110.

Today’s  action was brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud  Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an  aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute  financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. Attorneys’  offices and state and local partners, it is the broadest coalition of law  enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat  fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in  facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes;  enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local  authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and  conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other  organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department  has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants,  including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.

Abbott Laboratories Pays U.S. $5.475 Million to Settle Claims That Company Paid Kickbacks to Physicians

Abbott Laboratories has agreed to pay the United States $5.475 million to resolve allegations That it violated the False Claims Act by paying kickbacks to induce doctors to implant the company’s carotid, biliary and peripheral vascular products, the Justice Department announced today.  Abbott is a global pharmaceuticals and health care products company based in Abbott Park, Ill.

“Patients have a right to treatment decisions that are based on their own medical needs, not the personal financial interests of their health care providers,” said Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice.  “Kickbacks undermine the ability of health care providers to objectively evaluate and treat their patients, and will continue to be a primary focus of the Department’s health care enforcement efforts.”

The settlement resolves allegations that Abbott knowingly paid prominent physicians for teaching assignments, speaking engagements and conferences with the expectation that these physicians would arrange for the hospitals with which they were affiliated to purchase Abbott’s carotid, biliary and peripheral vascular products.  As a result, the United States alleged Abbott violated the Anti-Kickback Act and caused the submission of false claims to Medicare for the procedures in which these Abbott products were used.

“Physicians should make decisions regarding medical devices based on what is in the best interest of patients without being induced by payments from manufacturers competing for their business,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Killian of the Eastern District of Tennessee.

“Offering financial inducements can distort health care decision-making,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta.  “OIG and our law enforcement partners vigilantly protect government health programs from such alleged abuses.”

Carotid and peripheral vascular products are used to treat circulatory disorders by increasing blood flow to the head and various parts of the body, respectively.  Biliary products are used to treat obstructions that occur in the bile ducts.

The settlement resolves allegations originally brought in a lawsuit filed by Steven Peters and Douglas Gray, former Abbott employees, under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act , which allows whistleblowers to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in any recovery   As part of today’s resolution, Peters and Gray will receive a total payment of morethan $1 million.

This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $17 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $12.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

This settlement was the result of an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, theU.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the Northern District of Californiaand the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The lawsuit is captioned United States ex rel. Peters et al. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:09-CV-430 (E.D. Tenn.).   The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Patient Recruiter and Therapy Staffing Company Owner Sentenced for Roles in $7 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

A patient recruiter and a therapy staffing company owner were sentenced today to serve 50 months and 46 months in prison, respectively, for their participation in a $7 million health care fraud scheme involving defunct home health care company Anna Nursing Services Corp.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Steinbach of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Office of Investigations Miami Office made the announcement.
Ivan Alejo, 48, and Hugo Morales, 37, both of Miami, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez in the Southern District of Florida.   In addition to their prison terms, Alejo and Morales were both sentenced to serve three years of supervised release.   Alejo and Morales were also ordered to pay jointly and severally with their co-defendants $6,928,931 and $1,958,279, respectively, in restitution.
In August 2013, Alejo and Morales pleaded guilty before Judge Martinez to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
Alejo worked as a patient recruiter at Anna Nursing, a Miami home health care agency that purported to provide home health and therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries.   Morales owned a therapy staffing company, Professionals Therapy Staffing Services Inc., which provided therapists to Anna Nursing.
According to court documents, co-conspirators of Alejo and Morales operated Anna Nursing for the purpose of billing the Medicare Program for, among other things, expensive physical therapy and home health care services that were not medically necessary and/or not provided.
Alejo’s primary role in the scheme at Anna Nursing involved negotiating and paying kickbacks and bribes, interacting with patient recruiters and assisting in the submission of fraudulent claims to the Medicare program.   Alejo and his co-conspirators would pay kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters in return for the recruiters providing patients to Anna Nursing for home health and therapy services that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided.   Alejo and his co-conspirators would pay kickbacks and bribes to co-conspirators in doctors’ offices and clinics in exchange for home health and therapy prescriptions, medical certifications and other documentation.   Alejo and his co-conspirators would use the prescriptions, medical certifications and other documentation to fraudulently bill the Medicare program for home health care services, which Alejo knew was in violation of federal criminal laws.
Morales’s primary role in the scheme at Anna Nursing involved operating Professionals Therapy, where he and others created fictitious progress notes and other patient files indicating that therapists from Professionals Therapy had provided physical or occupational therapy services to particular Medicare beneficiaries, when in many instances those services had not been provided and/or were not medically necessary.   Morales knew the documents he and others from Professionals Therapy falsified were used to support false claims for home health care services billed to Medicare by his co-conspirators at Anna Nursing, which Morales knew was in violation of federal criminal laws.
From approximately October 2010 through approximately April 2013, Anna Nursing was paid by Medicare approximately $7 million for fraudulent claims for home health care services that were not medically necessary and/or not provided.
The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.   This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney A. Brendan Stewart of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5.5 billion.   In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Unlicensed Miami Clinic Nurse Convicted at Trial and Sentenced for Role in $11 Million HIV Infusion Fraud Scheme

An unlicensed nurse who fled after being charged in 2008 and was captured this year was sentenced today to serve 108 months in prison for her role in a fraud scheme that resulted in more than $11 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Steinbach of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Office of Investigations Miami Office made the announcement.
Carmen Gonzalez, 39, of Cape Coral, Fla.,  worked at St. Jude Rehabilitation Center, a fraudulent HIV infusion clinic in Miami, that was controlled by her cousins, Jose, Carlos and Luis Benitez, aka the Benitez Brothers.   Gonzalez was also sentenced for failing to appear at a June 2008 bond hearing.    The sentencing follows her conviction at trial to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States to cause the submission of false claims and to pay health care kickbacks and one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.    Gonzalez had previously pleaded guilty to a separate charge of failure to appear.
Gonzalez was sentenced by Chief United States District Judge Federico A. Moreno in Miami, who also sentenced her to  serve three years of supervised release.
Evidence at trial revealed that Gonzalez was an unlicensed nurse who paid thousands of dollars over a five month period to HIV beneficiaries so that St. Jude could submit millions of dollars in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare.   Gonzalez knew that St. Jude billed millions of dollars to Medicare for expensive HIV infusion therapy that was neither medically necessary nor provided.    Gonzalez fabricated patient medical records to facilitate and conceal the fraud, and these fabricated records were utilized to support the false and fraudulent claims submitted to Medicare on behalf of St. Jude.
On Oct. 17, 2013, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to knowingly and willfully failing to appear at a June 2008 hearing as directed by Judge Moreno.    Court documents reveal that Gonzalez was released on bond pending trial, but she knowingly and willfully failed to appear as directed by the court to a June 2008 hearing.
In January 2013, Gonzalez’s father, Enrique Gonzalez, was sentenced to 70 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in the Southern District of Florida for his role in separate health care fraud conspiracy.
The Benitez Brothers remain fugitives.    Anyone with information regarding their whereabouts is urged to contact HHS-OIG at 202-619-0088.
The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.    This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Allan Medina and Nathan Dimock of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5.5 billion.    In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov .

Justice Department Recovers $3.8 Billion from False Claims Act Cases in Fiscal Year 2013

The Justice Department secured $3. 8 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud against the government in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2013, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart F. Delery announced today.    This dollar amount, which is the second largest annual recovery of its type in history, brings total recoveries under the False Claims Act since January 2009 to $ 17 billion – nearly half the total recoveries since the Act was amended 27 years ago in 1986.

The Justice Department’s fiscal year 2013 efforts recovered more than $3 billion for the fourth year in a row and are surpassed only by last year’s nearly $5 billion in recoveries.    As in previous years, the largest recoveries related to health care fraud, which reached $2. 6  billion.    Procurement fraud (related primarily to defense contracts) accounted for another $ 890  million – a record in that area.

“It has been another banner year for civil fraud recoveries, but more importantly, it has been a great year for the taxpayer and for the millions of Americans, state agencies and organizations that benefit from government programs and contracts,” said Assistant Attorney General Delery.    “The $3. 8 billion in federal False Claims Act recoveries in fiscal year 2013, plus another $443 million in recoveries for state Medicaid programs, restores scarce taxpayer dollars to federal and state governments.    The government’s success in these cases is also a strong deterrent to others who would misuse public funds, which means government programs designed to keep us safer, healthier and economically more prosperous can do so without the corrosive effects of fraud and false claims.”

The False Claims Act is the government’s primary civil remedy to redress false claims for government funds and property under government contracts, including national security and defense contracts, as well as under government programs as varied as Medicare, veterans benefits, federally insured loans and mortgages, transportation and research grants, agricultural supports, school lunches and disaster assistance.    In 1986, Congress strengthened the Act by amending it to increase incentives for whistleblowers to file lawsuits on behalf of the government, which has led to more investigations and greater recoveries.

Most false claims actions are filed under the Act’s whistleblower, or qui tam, provisions, which allow private citizens to file lawsuits alleging false claims on behalf of the government.  If the government prevails in the action, the whistleblower, known as a relator, receives up to 30 perc  ent of the recovery.    The number of qui tam suits filed in fiscal year 2013 soared to 752 –100 more than the record set the previous fiscal year.    Recoveries in qui tam cases during fiscal year 2013 totaled $2. 9 billion , with whistleblowers recovering $345 million.

Health Care Fraud

The $2. 6 billion in health care fraud recoveries in fiscal year 2013 marks four straight years the department has recovered more than $2 billion in cases involving health care fraud.    This steady, significant and continuing success can be attributed to the high priority the Obama Administration has placed on fighting health care fraud.    In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the creation of an interagency task force, the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), to increase coordination and optimize criminal and civil enforcement.    This coordination has yielded historic results:   From January 2009 through the end of the 2013 fiscal year, the department used the False Claims Act to recover $12 .1 billion in federal health care dollars.    Most of these recoveries relate to fraud against Medicare and Medicaid.    Additional information on the government’s efforts in this area is available at StopMedicareFraud.gov, a webpage jointly established by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.

Some of the largest recoveries this past fiscal year involved allegations of fraud and false claims in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.    Of the $2. 6 billion in federal health care fraud recoveries, $1.8 billion were from alleged false claims for drugs and medical devices under federally insured health programs that, in addition to Medicare and Medicaid, include TRICARE, which provides benefits for military personnel and their families, veterans’ health care programs and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.    The department recovered an additional $443 million for state Medicaid programs.

Many of these settlements involved allegations that pharmaceutical manufacturers improperly promoted their drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – a practice known as “off-label marketing.”    For example, drug manufacturer Abbott Laboratories Inc. paid $1.5 billion to resolve allegations that it illegally promoted the drug Depakote to treat agitation and aggression in elderly dementia patients and schizophrenia when neither of these uses was approved as safe and effective by the FDA.    This landmark $1.5 billion settlement included $575 million in federal civil recoveries, $225 million in state civil recoveries and nearly $700 million in criminal fines and forfeitures.    In another major pharmaceutical case, biotech giant Amgen Inc. paid the government $762 million, including $598.5 million in False Claims Act recoveries, to settle allegations that included its illegal promotion of Aranesp, a drug used to treat anemia, in doses not approved by the FDA and for off-label use to treat non-anemia-related conditions.  For details, see Abbott, Abbott sentencing, and Amgen.

The department also settled allegations relating to the manufacture and distribution of adulterated drugs.    For example, generic drug manufacturer Ranbaxy USA Inc. paid $505 million to settle allegations of false claims to federal and state health care programs for adulterated drugs distributed from its facilities in India.  The settlement included $237 million in federal civil claims, $118 million in state civil claims and $150 million in criminal fines and forfeitures.    For details, see Ranbaxy.

Adding to its successes under the False Claims Act, the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, together with U.S. Attorneys across the country, obtained 16 criminal convictions and more than $1. 3 billion in criminal fines, forfeitures and disgorgement under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).  The FDCA protects the health and safety of the public by ensuring, among other things, that drugs intended for use in humans are safe and effective for their intended uses and that the labeling of such drugs bears true, complete and accurate information.

In other areas of health care fraud, the department obtained a $237 million judgment against South Carolina-based Tuomey Healthcare System Inc., after a four-week trial, for violating the Stark Law and the False Claims Act.  The Stark Law prohibits hospitals from submitting claims to Medicare for patients referred to the hospital by physicians who have a prohibited financial relationship with the hospital.    Tuomey’s appeal of the $237 million judgment is pending.  If the judgment is affirmed on appeal, this will be the largest judgment in the history of the Stark Law.    For the court’s opinion, see Tuomey.

The department also recovered $26.3 million in a settlement with Steven J. Wasserman M.D., a dermatologist practicing in Florida, to resolve allegations that he entered into an illegal kickback arrangement with Tampa Pathology Laboratory that resulted in increased claims to Medicare.    Tampa Pathology Laboratory previously paid the government $950,000 for its role in the alleged scheme.    The $26.3 million settlement is one of the largest with an individual in the history of the False Claims Act.    For details, see Wasserman.

Procurement Fraud

Fiscal year 2013 was a record year for procurement fraud matters.    The department secured more than $887 million in settlements and judgments based on allegations of false claims and corruption involving government contracts.  Prominent among these successes was the department’s $664 million judgment against Connecticut-based defense contractor United Technologies Corp. (UTC).    A federal court found UTC liable for making false statements to the Air Force in negotiating the price of a contract for fighter jet engines.    In 2004, the department had won a smaller judgment after a three-month trial.  Both sides appealed, but the government’s arguments prevailed, resulting in the case being returned to the trial court to reassess damages.   The $664 million judgment, which UTC has appealed, is the largest judgment in the history of the False Claims Act and, if the appellate court affirms, will be the largest procurement recovery in history.    For details, see UTC.

The department also settled allegations of false claims with two companies in connection with their contracts with the General Services Administration (GSA) to market their products through the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program.    To be awarded a MAS contract, and thereby gain access to the broad government marketplace, contractors must provide GSA with complete, accurate and current information about their commercial sales practices, including discounts afforded to their commercial customers.    The government alleged that W.W. Grainger Inc., a national hardware distributor headquartered in Illinois, and Ohio-based RPM International Inc. and its subsidiary, Tremco Inc., a roofing supplies and services firm, failed to disclose discounts given to their commercial customers, which resulted in government customers paying higher prices.  The department recovered $70 million from W.W. Grainger in a settlement that also included allegations relating to a U.S. Postal Services contract and $61 million from RPM International Inc. and Tremco.  For details, see Grainger, RPM/Tremco.

Other Fraud Recoveries

A $45 million settlement with Japan-based Toyo Ink S.C. Holdings Co. Ltd. and its Japanese and United States affiliates (collectively Toyo) demonstrates the breadth of cases the department pursues.  This settlement resolved allegations that Toyo misrepresented the country of origin on documents presented to the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection to evade antidumping and countervailing duties on imports of the colorant carbazole violet pigment into the United States.    These duties protect U.S. businesses by offsetting unfair foreign pricing and foreign government subsidies.    For details, see Toyo.

The False Claims Act also is used to redress grant fraud.    In a significant case involving a grant from the Department of Education, Education Holdings Inc. (formerly The Princeton Review Inc.) paid $10 million to resolve allegations that the company fabricated attendance records for thousands of hours of afterschool tutoring of students that was funded by the federal grant.  For details, see Education Holdings.

Recoveries in Whistleblower Suits

Of the $3. 8 billion the department recovered in fiscal year 2013, $2. 9 billion related to lawsuits filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act.    During the same period, the department paid out more than $345 million to the courageous individuals who exposed fraud and false claims by filing a qui tam complaint.    (The average share paid to whistleblowers in fiscal year 2013 cannot be determined from these numbers because the awards paid to whistleblowers in one fiscal year do not always coincide with the fiscal year in which the case was resolved, and the fiscal year’s recoveries may include amounts to settle allegations outside the whistleblower’s complaint.)

Whistleblower lawsuits were in the range of three to four hundred per year from 2000 to 2009, when they began their climb from 433 lawsuits in fiscal year 2009 to 752  lawsuits in fiscal year 2013.    Due to the complexity of fraud investigations generally, the outcomes of many of the qui tam cases filed this past fiscal year are not yet known, but the growing number of lawsuits filed since 2009 have led to increased recoveries.    Qui tam recoveries exceeded $2 billion for the first time in fiscal year 2010 and have continued to exceed that amount every year since.    Qui tam recoveries this past fiscal year bring the department’s totals since January 2009 to $13.4 billion.    During the same period, the department paid out $1.98 billion in whistleblower awards.

“These recoveries would not have been possible without the brave contributions made by ordinary men and women who made extraordinary sacrifices to expose fraud and corruption in government programs,” said Assistant Attorney General Delery.    “We are also grateful to Congress and its continued support of strengthening the False Claims Act, including its qui tam provisions, giving the department the tools necessary to pursue false claims.”

In 1986, Senator Charles Grassley and Representative Howard Berman led successful efforts in Congress to amend the False Claims Act to, among other things, encourage whistleblowers to come forward with allegations of fraud.  In 2009, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, along with Senator Grassley and Representative Berman, championed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, which made additional improvements to the False Claims Act and other fraud statutes.    And in 2010, the passage of the Affordable Care Act provided additional inducements and protections for whistleblowers and strengthened the provisions of the federal health care Anti-Kickback Statute.

Assistant Attorney General Delery also expressed his deep appreciation for the dedicated public servants who investigated and pursued these cases.    These individuals include attorneys, investigators, auditors and other agency personnel throughout the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, the various Offices of Inspector General and the many other federal and state agencies that contributed to the department’s recoveries this past fiscal year.

“The department’s continued success in recovering fraudulent claims for taxpayer money this past fiscal year is a product of the tremendous skill and dedication of the people who worked on these cases and investigations and continue to work hard to protect against the misuse of taxpayer dollars,” said Delery.

Army National Guard Colonel and Sergeant Indicted for Allegedly Defrauding Recruiting Assistance Program

A retired colonel and a sergeant in the Army National Guard have been charged in a nine-count indictment in Albuquerque, N.M., for allegedly defrauding the National Guard Bureau and its contractor of approximately $12,000 by fraudulently obtaining recruiting bonuses, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Retired Colonel Isaac Alvarado, 74, of Albuquerque, N.M. was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud and four counts of aggravated identity theft in an indictment that was filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.    Sergeant First Class Travis Nau, 40, also of Albuquerque, N.M., was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents, in approximately September 2005, the National Guard Bureau entered into a contract with Document and Packaging Broker Inc. to administer the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP).    The G-RAP was a recruiting program that was designed to offer monetary incentives to soldiers of the Army National Guard who referred others to join the Army National Guard.    Through this program, a participating soldier could receive bonus payments for referring another individual to join.    Based on certain milestones achieved by the referred soldier, a participating soldier would receive payment through direct deposit into the participating soldier’s designated bank account.    To participate in the program, soldiers were required to create online recruiting assistant accounts.    The rules prohibited Army National Guard recruiters from participating in the G-RAP.
According to court documents, between approximately November 2007 and February 2012, Alvarado participated as a recruiting assistant in the G-RAP.    Nau, who worked in a recruiting office and is Alvarado’s son-in-law, allegedly provided Alvarado with the names and Social Security numbers of potential soldiers.    This enabled Alvarado to claim that he was responsible for referring these potential soldiers to join the military, when in fact he did not recruit any of them.    In addition, Nau advised at least two potential soldiers to falsely report that Alvarado had assisted in their recruitment even though he had not.    As a result, Alvarado allegedly received a total of approximately $12,000 in fraudulent recruiting bonuses.
An indictment is merely a charge and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count.    Each wire fraud count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.    Each count of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year sentence in prison.    Each charged count carries a maximum fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gross gain.
The case is being investigated by special agents from the Fort Bliss Army Criminal Investigation Command.    The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Sean F. Mulryne, Mark J. Cipolletti and Heidi Boutros Gesch of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

ADM Subsidiary Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

A subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) pleaded guilty today and has agreed to pay more than $17 million in criminal fines to resolve charges that it paid bribes through vendors to Ukrainian government officials to obtain value-added tax (VAT) refunds, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney James A. Lewis of the Central District of Illinois and Special Agent in Charge David A. Ford of the FBI’s Springfield Division made the announcement.
“As today’s guilty plea shows, paying bribes to reap business benefits corrupts markets and undermines the rule of law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman.  “ADM’s subsidiaries sought to gain a tax benefit by bribing government officials, and then attempted to deliberately conceal their conduct by funneling payments through local vendors.  ADM, in turn, failed to implement sufficient policies and procedures to prevent the bribe payments, although ultimately ADM disclosed the conduct, cooperated with the government, and instituted extensive remedial efforts.  Today’s corporate guilty plea demonstrates that combating bribery is and will remain a mainstay of the Criminal Division’s mission.  We are committed to working closely with our foreign and domestic law enforcement partners to fight global corruption.”
Alfred C. Toepfer International Ukraine Ltd. (ACTI Ukraine), a subsidiary of ADM, pleaded guilty in the Central District of Illinois to one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA and agreed to pay $17.8 million in criminal fines.    The Department of Justice also entered into a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) with ADM in connection with the company’s failure to implement an adequate system of internal financial controls to address the making of improper payments both in Ukraine and by an ADM joint venture in Venezuela.
In a parallel action, ADM consented with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)  to a proposed final judgment that orders the company to pay roughly $36.5 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, bringing the total amount of U.S. criminal and regulatory penalties to be paid by ADM and its subsidiary to more than $54 million.
According to the charges, from 2002 to 2008, ACTI Ukraine, a trader and seller of commodities based in the Ukraine, together with Alfred C. Toepfer International G.m.b.H. (ACTI Hamburg), another subsidiary of ADM, paid third-party vendors to pass on bribes to Ukrainian government officials to obtain VAT refunds.    The charges allege that, in total, ACTI Ukraine and ACTI Hamburg paid roughly $22 million to two vendors, nearly all of which was to be passed on to Ukrainian government officials to obtain over $100 million in VAT refunds, resulting in a benefit to ACTI Ukraine and ACTI Hamburg of roughly $41 million.
According to the NPA with ADM, a number of concerns were expressed to ADM executives, including an e-mail calling into question potentially illegal “donations” by ACTI Ukraine and ACTI Hamburg to recover the VAT refunds, yet nonetheless failed to implement sufficient anti-bribery compliance policies and procedures to prevent corrupt payments.
In addition to the monetary penalty, ADM and ACTI Ukraine also agreed to cooperate with the department, to periodically report the companies’ compliance efforts, and to continue implementing enhanced compliance programs and internal controls designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations.
The agreements acknowledge ADM’s timely, voluntary and thorough disclosure of the conduct; ADM’s extensive cooperation with the department, including conducting a world-wide risk assessment and corresponding global internal investigation, making numerous presentations to the department on the status and findings of the internal investigation, voluntarily making current and former employees available for interviews, and compiling relevant documents by category for the department; and ADM’s early and extensive remedial efforts.
The department acknowledges and expresses its appreciation for the cooperation and assistance of German law enforcement authorities, which, in a parallel investigation, reached a resolution with ACTI Hamburg regarding its role in the bribery scheme.
In addition, the department acknowledges and expresses its appreciation for the significant assistance provided by the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the FBI.    The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Daniel S. Kahn of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller of the Central District of Illinois, with significant assistance from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.
Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa .

NCIS Agent Pleads Guilty in International Navy Bribery Scandal

A special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) pleaded guilty today to participating in a massive international fraud and bribery scheme, admitting he shared with a foreign Navy contractor confidential information about ongoing criminal probes into the contractor’s billing practices in exchange for prostitutes, cash and luxury travel.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy of the Southern District of California, Director Andrew Traver of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and Deputy Inspector General for Investigations James B. Burch of the U.S. Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General made the announcement after the plea was accepted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan Adler of the Southern District of California.    The plea is subject to acceptance by U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino.   Sentencing is set for March 9, 2014, before Judge Sammartino.
Supervisory Special Agent John Bertrand Beliveau Jr., 44, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and bribery, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.    In his plea agreement, Beliveau acknowledged that he regularly searched confidential NCIS databases for reports of investigations related to the contractor, Leonard Glenn Francis, chief executive of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).    Beliveau admitted that, over the course of years, he helped Francis avoid multiple criminal investigations by providing copies of these reports plus advice and counsel on how to respond to, stall and thwart the NCIS probes.    This duplicity began while Beliveau was stationed in Singapore and continued for more than a year after Beliveau returned to the NCIS office in Quantico, Va.
Beliveau is one of five Navy officials and civilian contractors who are implicated so far in the widening corruption case involving hundreds of millions of dollars in Navy contracts.    In addition to Beliveau and Francis, also charged are U.S. Navy Commanders Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz and Jose Luis Sanchez and GDMA executive Alex Wisidagama.    The charges against Francis, Misiewicz, Sanchez and Wisidagama are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
“Today, John Beliveau has admitted to accepting lavish gifts in exchange for revealing sensitive law enforcement information to a primary target of this massive bribery investigation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman.  “For nearly two years, Beliveau deliberately leaked the names of cooperating witnesses, reports of witness interviews, and plans for future investigative steps.  Through his corrupt conduct, Beliveau helped the target of the investigation evade the reach of law enforcement, and cost the U.S. Navy millions of dollars.  Thanks to the Navy’s extensive cooperation and assistance, and the hard work of the NCIS and DCIS agents assigned to this ongoing investigation, we have now been able to hold him to account.”
“Instead of doing his job, John Beliveau was leaking confidential details of investigations to the target himself,” said U.S. Attorney Duffy. “This is an audacious violation of law for a decorated federal agent who valued personal pleasure over loyalty to his colleagues, the U.S. Navy and ultimately his own country. His admissions are a troubling reminder that corruption may exist even among those entrusted with protecting our citizens and upholding our laws.”
“John Beliveau’s reprehensible actions, providing sensitive information to the targets of ongoing fraud investigations and accepting bribes, tragically tarnished his NCIS badge,” said NCIS Director Traver.   “Nevertheless, the tireless and dedicated work of NCIS and DCIS effectively brought this to a halt, and these agencies continue to vigilantly protect Department of Navy personnel and resources.”
“Today’s guilty plea of former NCIS Special Agent John Beliveau is part of an ongoing joint effort by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and our enforcement partners to identify, investigate and bring to justice those seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of U.S. taxpayers,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Burch.    “While the conduct of a vast majority of those in the U.S. Navy and law enforcement community is beyond reproach, we will vigorously pursue those individuals who put the safety and security of U.S. Navy personnel at risk.   The conduct of former Special Agent Beliveau is reprehensible and today’s guilty plea demonstrates the Defense Criminal Investigative Service will continue to pursue allegations of fraud and corruption that puts the Warfighter at risk.”
Among the law enforcement-sensitive information provided by Beliveau to Francis were the identities of the subjects of the investigations; information about witnesses, including identifying information about cooperating witnesses and their testimony; the particular aspects of GDMA’s billings that were of concern to the investigations; the fact that the investigations had obtained numerous email accounts and the identities of those accounts; the reports to prosecutors and their interactions with the investigations; and planned future investigative activities.
According to information provided in court, when authorities became aware of Beliveau’s duplicity, they began tracking Beliveau’s efforts to misappropriate information from the criminal investigation and then provide it to Francis.   Soon after that, Francis came to San Diego from Singapore for a meeting with Navy brass, where Francis was arrested.   Beliveau was taken into custody the same day in Virginia.
All told, Beliveau leaked information to Francis about criminal investigations into GDMA’s overbilling scheme that cost the Navy at least $7 million in fraudulent overpayments for “husbanding” services such as food, fuel and other supplies and services to the ships, according to the plea agreement.
In return for leaks of internal NCIS information and advice from Beliveau, Francis allegedly provided the agent with envelopes containing cash on at least five occasions, along with luxury travel from Virginia to Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, the plea agreement stated.   On many occasions, beginning in 2008 and continuing through 2012 while Beliveau was posted in Singapore, Francis allegedly provided the NCIS agent with prostitutes, lavish dinners, entertainment and alcohol at high-end nightclubs.   The tab for each of these outings routinely ran into the thousands of dollars.
According to court records, in April of 2012 Beliveau complained to Francis, saying, “You give whores more money than you give me,” and, “I can be your best friend or worst enemy.”
Court records state that Beliveau and Francis tried to hide their illicit activity by employing techniques that Beliveau had learned from his specialized training as a law enforcement agent.   These steps included deleting emails, changing email accounts, creating covert email accounts shared by Beliveau and Francis, not transferring funds through the normal banking channels and using Skype chat and calls to transmit information.
This ongoing investigation is being conducted by NCIS, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.   Significant assistance was provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations and the DOJ Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the Royal Thai Police and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau Singapore.   This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Pletcher and Robert Huie of the Southern District of California and Director of Procurement Fraud Catherine Votaw and Trial Attorney Brian Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, as well as Special Trial Attorney Wade Weems on detail to the Fraud Section from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.
Those with information relating to fraud, corruption or waste in government contracting should contact the NCIS anonymous tipline at www.ncis.navy.mil or the DoD Hotline at www.dodig.mil/hotline , or call (800) 424-9098.

 

Houston Doctor Indicted for Her Alleged Role in $158 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

A Houston doctor has been arrested on charges related to her alleged participation in a $158 million Medicare fraud scheme involving false claims for mental health treatment.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement.
Sharon Iglehart, 56, of Houston, was charged in an indictment, filed in the Southern District of Texas and unsealed today, with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and four counts of health care fraud.   If convicted, Iglehart faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count.   Iglehart was arrested on Dec. 16, 2013, and made her initial appearance in federal court in Houston today.
According to the indictment, Iglehart allegedly participated in a scheme to defraud Medicare beginning in 2005 and continuing until May 2012.  The defendant allegedly caused the submission of false and fraudulent claims for partial hospitalization program (PHP) services to Medicare through a Houston hospital.  A PHP is a form of intensive outpatient treatment for severe mental illness.
The indictment alleges that the defendant and her co-conspirators submitted or caused to be submitted approximately $158 million in claims to Medicare for PHP services purportedly provided by the hospital, when in fact the PHP services were medically unnecessary or never provided.
In February 2012, Mohammad Khan, an assistant administrator at the hospital who managed many of the hospital’s PHPs, was indicted for his role in the scheme.   Khan pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay illegal kickbacks, and five counts of paying illegal kickbacks.   Khan has not yet been sentenced.
In October 2012, Earnest Gibson III, the administrator of the hospital, along with Earnest Gibson IV, William Bullock III, Robert Ferguson, Regina Askew, Leslie Clark and Robert Crane, were indicted for their roles in the scheme.   Leslie Clark pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks.   Clark has not yet been sentenced.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, MFCU, Internal Revenue Service’s Houston Field Office, the Chicago Field Office of the Railroad Retirement Board’s Office of Inspector General, and the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.   The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Laura M.K. Cordova of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5.5 billion.   In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.