Three Companies and Their Executives Pay $19.5 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Pertaining to Rehabilitation Therapy and Hospice Services

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ohio based Foundations Health Solutions Inc. (FHS), Olympia Therapy Inc. (Olympia), and Tridia Hospice Care Inc. (Tridia), and their executives, Brian Colleran (Colleran) and Daniel Parker (Parker), have agreed to pay approximately $19.5 million to resolve allegations pertaining to the submission of false claims for medically unnecessary rehabilitation therapy and hospice services to Medicare, the Department of Justice announced today.

“Clinical decisions should be based on patient needs rather than corporate profits,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This settlement reflects the Department’s continuing commitment to safeguarding patients and the Medicare system.”

FHS is the corporate successor to Provider Services Inc. (PSI), which provided management services to skilled nursing facilities. In 2010, PSI was merged into BCFL Holdings Inc. (BCFL), which was renamed FHS in 2013. Olympia provided rehabilitation therapy services to patients at the skilled nursing facilities managed by PSI and BCFL. Tridia Hospice Care Inc. provided hospice care services. Colleran and Parker partially controlled or owned PSI, BCFL, FHS, Olympia, and Tridia between 2008 and 2013.

The settlement resolves allegations that, from January 2008 through December 2012, Olympia and PSI/BCFL submitted, or caused the submission of, false claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary rehabilitation therapy services at 18 skilled nursing facilities. The government contended that the therapy services were provided at excessive levels to increase Medicare reimbursement for those services.

The settlement further resolves allegations that, from April 2011 through December 2013, Tridia submitted false claims to Medicare for hospice services provided to patients who were ineligible for the Medicare hospice benefit because Tridia failed to conduct proper certifications or medical examinations. The settlement also resolves allegations that from January 2008 through December 2012, Colleran and Parker solicited and received kickbacks to refer patients from skilled nursing facilities managed by PSI or BCFL to Amber Home Care LLC, a home health care services provider.

“This is one of the largest nursing home operations in Ohio,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio. “It is unacceptable for an entity entrusted to care for our most vulnerable and elderly citizens to make decisions based on profit, not quality of care. Subjecting the elderly to inappropriate levels of therapy can be physically harmful, and failing to properly certify and re-certify hospice patients can have a devastating impact on the patients and their families.”

As part of the settlement, FHS and Colleran have entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). The CIA is designed to increase the accountability and transparency of FHS and Colleran so that they will avoid or promptly detect future fraud and abuse.

“Medicare providers have a legal and moral obligation to provide only those services that are medically necessary and to ensure that claims seeking payment accurately reflect the services that are actually provided,” said Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “The misrepresentation or falsification of those claims not only violates provisions of the False Claims Act but the public’s trust. The OIG will continue to aggressively investigate allegations of potential violations of this nature.”

The settlement resolves allegations filed in two separate lawsuits by Vladimir Trakhter, a former Olympia employee, and Paula Bourne and La’Tasha Goodwin, former Tridia employees, in federal court in Columbus, Ohio. The lawsuits were filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. Mr. Trahkter will receive approximately $2.9 million and Ms. Bourne and Ms. Goodwin collectively will receive $740,000.

The settlement is the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, with assistance from HHS-OIG, the HHS Office of Counsel to the Inspector General, and the Ohio Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

These cases are captioned United States ex rel. Trakhter v. Provider Services, Inc., n/k/a BCFL Holdings, Inc., et. al., Case No. 1:11-CV-217, and United States ex rel. Bourne and Goodwin v. Brian Colleran, et. al., Case No. 1:12-CV-935. The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Telecom Executive Pleads Guilty to FCPA Charge in Connection With Haitian Bribery Scheme

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The former general manager of a Miami-based telecommunications company pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to pay $3 million in bribes to various Haitian officials to secure a lucrative contract with Telecommunications D’Haiti (Haiti Teleco), the state-owned and state-controlled telecommunications company in Haiti.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Miami Field Office made the announcement.

Amadeus Richers, 66, of Brazil, pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami to count one of a second superseding indictment charging him with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  According to admissions in the plea documents, beginning in 2001 and lasting until 2004, Richers and his co-conspirators paid roughly $3 million in bribes directly and indirectly to foreign officials employed by Haiti Teleco and to a foreign official in the executive branch of the Haitian government in order to secure a favorable contract and favorable treatment in connection with that contract from Haiti Teleco.  The co-conspirators funneled some of the money through third-party intermediaries and paid other money directly to officials or relatives of officials, Richers admitted.

Richers is the ninth defendant to have pled guilty or to have been convicted at trial in this case.  On April 27, 2009, Antonio Perez, a former controller at one of the Miami-based telecommunications companies, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering.  On May 15, 2009, Juan Diaz, the president of J.D. Locator Services, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering.  On Feb. 19, 2010, Jean Fourcand, the president and director of Fourcand Enterprises Inc., pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for receiving and transmitting bribe monies in the scheme.  On March 12, 2010, Robert Antoine, a former director of international affairs for Haiti Teleco, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On Aug. 4, 2011, Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez, who were the former president and vice-president, respectively, of one of the telecommunications companies, were convicted by a federal jury of one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and wire fraud, seven counts of FCPA violations, one count of money laundering conspiracy and 12 counts of money laundering.  On Feb. 8, 2012, Patrick Joseph, a former executive director of Haiti Teleco, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On March 12, 2012, Jean Rene Duperval, a former director of international relations for Haiti Teleco, was convicted by a federal jury of two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering.

Richers was indicted on July 12, 2011, but remained a fugitive until his arrest and ultimately his extradition from Panama on February 23. Richers will be sentenced on September 20.

The Department of Justice is grateful to the government of Haiti for continuing to provide substantial assistance in gathering evidence during this investigation.  In particular, Haiti’s financial intelligence unit, the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), the Bureau des Affaires Financières et Economiques (BAFE), which is a specialized component of the Haitian National Police, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security provided significant cooperation and coordination in this ongoing investigation.

The Department of Justice also thanks Panama for its significant assistance in this matter.

IRS-CI is conducting the investigation.  Senior Litigation Counsel Nicola Mrazek and Trial Attorney Vanessa Snyder of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.

The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters.  Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/foreign-corrupt-practices-act.

Clinical Psychologist and Owner of Psychological Services Centers Sentenced to 264 Months for Roles in $25 Million Psychological Testing Scheme Carried out Through Eight Companies in Four States

Friday, July 14, 2017

Two owners of psychological services companies, one of whom was a clinical psychologist, were sentenced yesterday for their involvement in a $25.2 million Medicare fraud scheme carried out through eight companies at nursing homes in four states in the Southeastern U.S.

The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana, Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey S. Sallet of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office.

Rodney Hesson, 47, of Slidell, Louisiana, and Gertrude Parker, 63 of Slidell, Louisiana, were sentenced on July 13, to 180 months’ imprisonment and 84 months’ imprisonment by U.S. District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana. Judge Barbier also ordered Hesson to pay $13,800,553.57 in restitution, and ordered Parker to pay $7,313,379.75 in restitution. The defendants were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to make false statements related to health care matters on January 24.

According to evidence presented at trial, Hesson and Parker’s companies, Nursing Home Psychological Services (NHPS) and Psychological Care Services (PCS), respectively, contracted with nursing homes in Alabama, Florida, Lousiana and Mississippi to allow NHPS and PCS clinical psychologists to provide psychological services to nursing home residents. Hesson and Parker caused these companies to bill Medicare for psychological testing services that these nursing home residents did not need or in some instances did not receive, the trial evidence showed. During trial, evidence was entered showing that between 2009 and 2015, NHPS and PCS submitted over $25.2 million in claims to Medicare, the vast majority of which were fraudulent, while Medicare paid more than $13.5 million on the fraudulent claims. The jury verdict included a money judgment of $8,956,278, as well as forfeiture of Hesson’s home and at least $525,629 in seized currency.

The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and brought by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigiation Counsel John Michelich and Trial Attorneys Katherine Raut and Katherine Payerle of the Fraud Section.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged over 3,000 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for over $11 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the 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.

Florida Businessman Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Commit Tax and Bank Fraud

Monday, July 17, 2017

Concealed Approximately $2.5 Million in Secret Belize Accounts

A Florida businessman was sentenced today to 57 months in prison in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida for conspiring to commit tax and bank fraud, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.

According to documents filed with the court, Casey Padula, 48, of Port Charlotte, was the sole shareholder of Demandblox Inc., a marketing and information technology business. Padula conspired with others to move funds for his benefit from Demandblox to offshore accounts in Belize and disguised these transfers as business expenses in Demandblox’s corporate records. Padula created two offshore companies in Belize: Intellectual Property Partners Inc. (IPPI) and Latin American Labor Outsourcing Inc. (LALO). He opened and controlled bank accounts in the names of these entities at Heritage International Bank & Trust Limited (Heritage Bank), a financial institution located in Belize. From 2012 through 2013, Padula caused periodic payments to be sent from Demandblox to his accounts at Heritage Bank and deposited approximately $2,490,688. Padula used the funds to pay for personal expenses and purchase significant personal assets. However, he falsely recorded these payments in Demandblox’s corporate books as intellectual property rights or royalty fees and deducted them as business expenses on Demandblox’s 2012 and 2013 corporate tax returns. As a result of these false deductions, Padula caused a tax loss of more than $728,000.

Padula also conspired with investment advisors Joshua VanDyk and Eric St-Cyr at Clover Asset Management (CAM), a Cayman Islands investment firm, to open and fund an investment account that he would control, but that would not be in his name. Heritage Bank had an account at CAM in its name and its clients could get a subaccount through Heritage Bank that would not be in the client’s name but rather would be a numbered account. Padula transferred $1,000,080 from the IPPI bank account at Heritage Bank in Belize to CAM to fund a numbered account that concealed his financial interest in it. Padula failed to disclose this account to the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) despite being required to do so under the law.

In addition to the tax fraud, Padula also conspired with others to commit bank fraud. Padula had a mortgage on his Port Charlotte, Florida home of approximately $1.5 million with Bank of America (BoA). In 2012, he sent a letter to the bank stating that he could no longer repay his loan. At the same time, Padula provided Robert Robinson III, 43, who acted as a nominee buyer, with more than $625,000 from his IPPI bank account in Belize to fund a short sale of Padula’s home. Padula and Robinson signed a contract, which falsely represented that the property was sold through an “arms-length transaction,” and agreed that Padula would not be permitted to remain in the property after the sale. Padula in fact never moved from his home and less than two months after the closing, Robinson conveyed it back to Padula by transferring ownership to one of Padula’s Belizean entities for $1. Robinson was also sentenced today to five years of probation for signing a false Form HUD-1 in connection with his role in the scheme.

“Casey Padula used secret numbered bank accounts, foreign shell companies and phony deductions to hide millions and evade U.S. taxes,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg. “His 57 month sentence today makes clear that there is no place safe in the world for tax cheats to hide their money and feel secure that the Department of Justice and the IRS will not uncover their scheme and hold them fully accountable.”

“As Mr. Padula has learned, using shell companies and offshore accounts is not tax planning; it’s tax fraud,” said Chief Don Fort of IRS Criminal Investigation (CI). “The use of sophisticated international financial transactions does not prevent IRS CI from following the trail of money back to the person breaking the law. In conjunction with our law enforcement partners, we will continue our ongoing efforts to pursue individuals who use these offshore schemes to circumvent the law.”

In addition to the term of prison imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Sherri Polster Chappell, Padula was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay a fine of $100,000 and to pay restitution of $728,609 to the IRS and to BoA in the amount of $739,459.90. He was remanded into custody.

Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg thanked special agents of IRS CI, who conducted the investigation, and Assistant Chiefs Todd Ellinwood and Caryn Finley of the Tax Division, who prosecuted this case. Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg also thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Florida for its assistance.

Additional information about the Tax Division’s enforcement efforts can be found on the division’s website.

Three Former Traders for Major Banks Arraigned in Foreign Currency Exchange Antitrust Conspiracy

Monday, July 17, 2017

Three United Kingdom nationals and former traders of major banks voluntarily surrendered to the FBI and were arraigned on a charge arising from their alleged roles in a conspiracy to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the foreign currency exchange (FX) spot market, the Justice Department announced today.

A one-count indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on January 10, 2017, charges Richard Usher (former Head of G11 FX Trading-UK at an affiliate of The Royal Bank of Scotland plc, as well as former Managing Director at an affiliate of JPMorgan Chase & Co.), Rohan Ramchandani (former Managing Director and head of G10 FX spot trading at an affiliate of Citicorp) and Christopher Ashton (former Head of Spot FX at an affiliate of Barclays PLC) with conspiring to fix prices and rig bids for U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the FX spot market.

The charge in the indictment 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 victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.

According to the indictment, from at least December 2007 through at least January 2013, Usher, Ramchandani and Ashton (along with unnamed co-conspirators) conspired to fix prices and rig bids for the euro – U.S. dollar currency pair. Called “the Cartel” or “the Mafia,” this group of traders carried out their conspiracy by participating in telephone calls and near-daily conversations in a private electronic chat room. Their anticompetitive behavior included colluding around the time of certain benchmark rates known as fixes, such as by coordinating their bidding/offering and trading to manipulate the price of the currency pair by the time of the fix or otherwise profit as a result of the fix price. The conspirators also coordinated their trading activities outside of fix times, such as by refraining from entering bids/offers or trading at certain times as a means of stabilizing or controlling price.

The charge in the indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This prosecution is being handled by the Antitrust Division’s New York Office and the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Anyone with information concerning price fixing or other anticompetitive conduct in the FX market should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at (888) 647-3258, visit https://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations or call the FBI tip line at (415) 553-7400.

CCC’s: The Sherman Act is An Unconstitutional Criminal Statute (Part II)

July 19, 2017 by Robert Connolly 2 Comments

In Part 1 of this article (here), I argued that the Sherman Act was unconstitutional as a criminal statute because it is void for vagueness.  A statute that criminalizes all restraints of trade cannot be saved by the Supreme Court explaining what Congress really must have really meant. What passed constitutional muster when the Sherman Act was a misdemeanor[1] merits another look now that the statute carries a maximum jail time of 10 years in prison.

In Part II I discuss how I think the criminal element of the Sherman Act should be fixed.

 The Heir Locators Criminal Indictment May Make This Issue Topical

I want to explain why this topic has come to mind. The Antitrust Division’s heir locators investigation/prosecution garners little attention in the world of massive international cartel investigations, but an indictment in this investigation could have major implications for criminal antitrust prosecutions.[2]  In a recent development, the trial judge ruled that the criminal case should be tried under the Rule of Reason. It is possible this development will set off a chain of events that leads to the Supreme Court revisiting what is necessary for a criminal conviction under the Sherman Act.

Heir locator firms locate potential heirs to an estate from public records and agree to help with their claim in return for a contingency fee.  The amount of the contingency fee depends on factors such as the complexity of the claim, potential recovery etc.  Since the potential heirs are located from public records, they may be contacted by more than one heir locator firm.  According to the indictment, the defendants agreed to allocate customers on a “first to contact basis.”  The firm to which the customers were allocated would pay the firm that “backed off” a percentage of the contingency recovered.  The Division has obtained two guilty pleas in the investigation but defendants Kemp & Associates and its co-owner Daniel J. Mannix were indicted in August 2016 and have pled not guilty.

The indictment appears to be a straight forward customer allocation scheme—a per seviolation.  The defendants:

  • agreed, during those conversations and other communications, that when both co-conspirator companies contacted the same unsigned heir to an estate, the co-conspirator company that first contacted that heir would be allocated certain remaining heirs to that estate who had yet to sign a contract with an Heir Location Services provider;

  • agreed that the co-conspirator company to which heirs were allocated would pay to the other co-conspirator company a portion of the contingency fees ultimately collected from those allocated heirs;

If anything is a per se violation, customer allocation should earn the title.  It eliminates price competition and it can be an easier agreement to monitor/enforce than price fixing.  If you lose a customer you were supposed to get, you know it.  But, the defendants moved that the case should be tried under the rule of reason.  The briefs in the case were filed under seal so it is impossible at this point to understand the defendants’ argument and the government’s response.  Nonetheless, on June 21, 2017 U.S. District Judge David Sam heard oral argument and then granted the defendants’ motion that the case is subject to the rule of reason. He reserved judgment on the motion to dismiss “for further disposition pending the government’s further evaluation of the case.”

I predict that the Antitrust Division will not try a criminal case under the Rule of Reason.  The government will either seek an interlocutory appeal to reverse the district court’s ruling, or drop the case.  The Division is in a tough position because three defendants have already pled guilty.[3]  The Division will not lightly walk away from a prosecution where others have already taken a plea.  On the other hand, the Antitrust Division will not want a precedent that allows the defendant to raise the reasonableness of the conduct.  Defendants have argued in previous criminal cases that the restraint should be judged under a rule of reason, but the Division has had ample authority to beat that argument back.  But, what if the defendants go for the whole enchilada, and seek not just a rule of reason trial, but a complete dismissal of the charges?   It certainly would be helpful to the defendants to have a criminal case tried under the rule of reason, but it would be a home run, or antitrust Hall of Fame material to get the indictment dismissed in its entirety as unconstitutionally void for vagueness.

A Rule of Reason Criminal Case?

One reason the defendants may have moved for a rule of reason trial is that the Supreme Court has already said that this would be permissible.  In United States v. U.S. Gypsum,[4]the Supreme Court held that in a criminal prosecution under the Sherman Act that was subject to rule of reason analysis, “action undertaken with knowledge of its probable consequences and having the requisite anticompetitive effects can be a sufficient predicate for a finding of criminal liability under the antitrust laws.”[5]  That would seem to settle the question, but the Supreme Court has been rightly flexible with stare decisis in overruling numerous other “conventional wisdom” tenets in the antitrust area.  Think vertical restraints, maximum resale price maintenance and resale price maintenance as examples.[6]  Would the Supreme Court decide that a rule of reason criminal case (or a per se case) is unconstitutional.  Would an after-the-fact rule of reason determination (after a quick look?) (or full blown inquiry?) meet the “notice” standard required for a criminal statute?  But, what about the Gypsum required showing of intent of anticompetitive conduct?  Does that save the statute?  But what does that even mean?  Anticompetitive under the “consumer welfare model?”  Measured by the Chicago School?  Post Chicago School?  School of Rock?

I have a proposal to amend the elements of a Sherman Act criminal conviction that eliminates these questions/issues and is warranted in light of the 10-year maximum jail sentence.  (And not to forget, a corporation has paid a $500 million criminal fine.)

If the Restraint is Fraudulent—It’s Criminal

Every head of the Antitrust Division in recent memory has made statements such as, “price fixing, market allocation and bid rigging steal from, and commit fraud upon, American business and customers.”[7] Similarly, an Antitrust Division official has testified, “the [criminal] cases that we are charging and prosecuting are unmistakable fraud.”[8]  Simply put, the litmus test for criminality should be whether the restraint of trade also involves fraud (i.e. a per se violation).  The substantial hammer of justice –lengthy prison sentences, Red Notices, extradition, should be reserved for when a jury finds the defendant engaged in a restraint of trade that involved fraud.

Today, criminal antitrust indictments contain an element of fraud, because of [wise] prosecutorial discretion, not because of the dictates of the statute.  But, antitrust jurisprudence could have taken the path down a fraud requirement instead of veering off to a per se rule (a conclusive presumption that takes the issue of reasonableness out of the juries’ hand), and found that the criminality in the Sherman Act is confined to those agreements that have an element of fraud. Early cases interpreting what was an unreasonable restraint of trade were heading in that direction.

What we now call per se offenses were originally called fraud.  This was recognized as early as 1875 in Craft v. McConoughy,[9] a case involving a secret scheme to fix prices among four Illinois warehouses. The court stated, “To the public the four houses were held out as competing firms for business. Secretly they had conspired together.”[10]  The scheme enabled the parties “by secret and fraudulent means, to control the price of grain.”[11]  In the seminal antitrust case of United States v. Addyston Pipe,[12] the court found secret agreements to refrain from bidding to be a form of fraud: “It is well settled that an agreement between intending bidders at a public auction or a public letting not to bid against each other, and thus prevent competition, is a fraud.”[13] In McMullen v. Hoffman,[14] the Court refused to enforce a contract when one conspirator sued for his portion of the profits from a successful collusive bidding scheme. The Court explained that the agreement “tend[ed] to induce the belief that there really is competition . . . although the truth is that there is no such competition.”[15] The Court held that “the illegal character of the agreement is founded not alone upon the fact that it tends to lessen competition, but also upon the fact of the commission of a fraud by the parties in combining their interests and concealing the same.”[16] The Court distinguished a secret agreement from a known joint venture, where “[t]he public may obtain at least the benefit of the joint responsibility. . . . The public agents know then all that there is in the transaction, and can more justly estimate the motives of the bidders, and weigh the merits of the bid.”[17]  Over a century later, in response to a question as to whether antitrust crimes are crimes of moral turpitude, Antitrust Division Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer responded that “price-fixing, bid-rigging and market allocation agreements among companies that hold themselves out to the public as competitors are inherently deceptive and defraud consumers who expect the benefit of competition.”[18]

Drawing on the wisdom of early Supreme Court decisions and the recent pronouncements of the Antitrust Division, the demarcation between a restraint of trade that can subject the violator to civil penalties and one that subjects the violator to criminal penalties is whether there was an element of fraud.  The Sherman Act should reflect this, either by amendment in Congress, or by Supreme Court further interpretation of what the government is required to prove to subject the defendant to criminal penalties.   In a criminal case the government’s burden should include proving that the agreement was a restraint of trade where the agreement was actively concealed or where the defendant held him/itself out to the public as a competitor when in fact an agreement not to compete or limit competition had been reached without the knowledge of the customer.  In a previous article, I have labeled this standard Per Se Plus.[19]

How would the heir locators indictment fare under such a standard? It is hard to know for sure but the indictment suggests that customers shopped around or there would have been no need for an agreement at all.  And when customers got quotes from more than one company, the customer would reasonably assume there was competition.  And the fraud would be, as the Supreme Court said long ago, “in [the defendants] combining their interests and concealing the same.”

Conclusion

Would requiring the government to prove an element of fraud to obtain a criminal conviction make obtaining convictions more difficult?  The answer must be yes, but as a former Antitrust Division prosecutor, to convince a jury to convict you must argue that the crime wasn’t an “unreasonable restraint of trade” whatever the heck that is—but it was fraud by the lying cheating defendants.  There are benefits to the Antitrust Division that would flow from having to prove fraud, but that’s for another post. Here, I’ll end with this.  The crime should fit the punishment; and with punishment of up to ten years in prison for an individual and hundreds of millions of dollars for a corporation, the Sherman Act needs to be amended to include an element of fraud for a criminal conviction because it is currently unconstitutional.

Thanks for reading.

*********************************************************************************

[1] When the per se rule was announced in United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S 150 (1940). a jail sentence was virtually a non-existent possibility. The maximum sentence imposed on any of the convicted individual defendants in Socony Vacuum was a fine of $1000. See Daniel A. Crane, The Story of United States v. Socony Vacuum: Hot Oil and Antitrust in the Two New Deals, in ANTITRUST STORIES 107 (Eleanor M. Fox & Daniel A. Crane eds., 2007).

[2]  U.S. v. Kemp & Associates, Inc. and Daniel J. Mannix, Case: 2:16-cr-00403, (D. Utah 2016) (DS), available at  https://www.justice.gov/atr/file/887761/download.

[3]  Richard Blake agreed to plead guilty in January 2016 as part of a proposed plea agreement between the Antitrust Division and Blake.  His company was not charged, most likely because it had received leniency. California-based Brandenburger & Davis and its president Bradley Davis agreed to plead guilty in December 2015.

[4]  438 U.S. 422 (1978).

[5]  Gypsum, 438 U.S. at 444. fn 21.

[6] The Supreme Court stated in Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877, 899 (2007).   “Stare decisis is not as significant in this case, however, because the issue before us is the scope of the Sherman Act,” which the Court has treated as a common-law statute.  The Court has been receptive to reviewing the per se rule in light of “new circumstances and new wisdom.”  The severe loss of personal liberty and other consequences now at stake in a Sherman Act criminal case is a new circumstance that warrants an evolution in the application of the per se rule to criminal antitrust cases so that the test for liability will better match the evolution of the law on consequences

[7] Anne K. Bingaman, Assistant Att’y Gen., Antitrust Div., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, The Clinton Administration: Trends in Criminal Antitrust Enforcement, Remarks Before the Corporate Counsel Inst. (Nov. 30, 1995), available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/speeches/0471.htm.

[8] Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Att’y Gen., Antitrust Div., U.S. Dep’t. of Justice, Transcript of Testimony Before the United States Sentencing Commission Concerning Proposed 2005 Amendments to Section 2R1.1 at 3 (Apr. 12, 2005), available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public testimony/209071.pdf.

[9] 79 Ill. 346 (1875).

[10] Id. at 348.

[11] Id. at 349.

[12] 85 F. 271 (6th Cir. 1898).

[13] Id. at 293 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

[14] 174 U.S. 639 (1899)

[15] Id. at 646.

[16] Id. at 649.

[17] Id. at 652 (citations omitted).

[18] Letter from Peter J. Kadzik, Principal Deputy Assistant Att’y Gen., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to Senator Patrick Leahy Attaching Responses of William Baer, Assistant Att’y Gen. Antitrust Div., U.S. Dep’t of Justice to Questions for the Record Arising from the Nov. 14, 2013 Hearing of the Senate Comm. of the Judiciary Regarding Cartel Prosecution: Stopping Price Fixers and Protecting Consumers at 3 (Jan. 24, 2014) (emphasis added), available at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/111413QFRs-Baer.pdf.

[19]  Robert E. Connolly, Per Se “Plus:” A Proposal to Revise the Per se Rule in Criminal Antitrust Cases, Antitrust, Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2015, p. 105.

Senior Executives Of Medical Drug Re-Packager Plead Guilty To Defrauding Healthcare Providers

Friday, July 14, 2017

President and Pharmacist-in-Charge Distributed Cancer Drugs Contaminated With Mold

Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Gerald Tighe, the president and owner of Med Prep Consulting Inc. (Med Prep), and Stephen Kalinoski, its director of pharmacy and registered pharmacist-in-charge, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy in connection with their operation of the now-defunct Tinton Falls, New Jersey-based medical drug re-packager and compounding pharmacy. The pleas were entered before United States District Judge I. Leo Glasser.

The guilty pleas were announced by Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Mark McCormack, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, Metropolitan Washington Field Office (FDA/OCI).

According to court filings and facts presented during the plea proceeding, Med Prep processed numerous drugs, including oncology and dialysis drugs, pain medications, anesthesia drugs, and operating room drugs, in purportedly aseptic conditions. In an effort to gain market share, Med Prep repeatedly misrepresented to its customers, who consisted of hospitals and other healthcare providers, that it adhered to, and in some areas exceeded, industry standards and laws applicable to sterile drug preparation. In fact, Med Prep produced drugs in a facility that fell far short of basic industry standards of cleanliness, creating a risk to the health of already ill patients. Tighe and Kalinoski lied to healthcare providers about Med Prep’s failures to comply with basic sterility practices. Med Prep halted its production of drug products in the summer of 2013, following an incident in which it had distributed intravenous drugs containing visible mold to a Connecticut hospital.

“Today’s guilty pleas mark an important step in our continuing effort to hold accountable those who pursue corporate profits over the health and safety of vulnerable patients suffering from disease,” said Acting United States Attorney Rohde. In announcing the guilty plea, Ms. Rohde gratefully acknowledged the assistance and cooperation of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, Office of Investigations; the United States Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Inspector General; the Department of Justice, Civil Division, Consumer Protection Branch and Commercial Litigation Branch; the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel; the Office of the Attorney General of New Jersey; and the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy.

“Producing unsafe and contaminated drugs poses a serious threat to the U.S. public health and cannot be tolerated,” stated FDA/OCI Special Agent-in-Charge McCormack. “The FDA remains fully committed to aggressively pursuing those who place unsuspecting American consumers at risk by distributing adulterated drugs.”

The sentencing, Tighe and Kalinoski each face up to five years in prison, a fine and the forfeiture of criminal proceeds. They will also be required to make full restitution to their victims.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Alixandra E. Smith, Ameet B. Kabrawala and Erin E. Argo.

The Defendants:

GERALD TIGHE

Age: 59

West Long Branch, New Jersey

STEPHEN KALINOSKI

Age: 53

Middletown, New Jersey

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 15-CR-62 (ILG)

As Part of National Health Care Fraud Takedown, Federal Prosecutors in Los Angeles Charge 14 Defendants in Fraud Schemes that Allegedly Cost Public Healthcare Programs nearly $150 Million

Thursday, July 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES – In the largest-ever health care fraud enforcement action by federal prosecutors, 14 defendants – including doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals – have been charged in the Central District of California for allegedly participating in health care fraud schemes that caused approximately $147 million in losses.

The defendants charged locally are among hundreds of people charged across the United States in cases that cumulatively allege approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. The nationwide sweep includes charges against more than 120 defendants – some of whom are doctors – who allegedly prescribed and distributed opioids and other dangerous narcotics.

In the Central District of California, 14 defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud health insurance programs such as Medicare. The cases allege health care fraud and kickback schemes involving compounded drugs, home health services, physical therapy, acupuncture, Medicare Part D prescription drugs, diagnostic sleep studies and hospice care.

“Health care fraud schemes such as these threaten the vital trust between a patient and his or her health care provider, undermine the integrity of our health care system, and cost all Americans billions of dollars,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “Today’s announcement serves as a clear warning that we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and hold accountable health care professionals who commit these crimes.”

The defendants charged locally include four physicians, including Dr. Jeffrey Olsen, who was charged with illegally prescribing controlled substances, including the opiate oxycodone.

The 57-year-old Olsen surrendered to authorities on Tuesday after being indicted last week by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of illegally prescribing controlled drugs, including oxycodone, and one count of false statement on a DEA registration application. Olsen, a resident of Laguna Beach, allegedly sold prescriptions to addicts and drug dealers in exchange for fixed cash fees, without any medical basis for the prescriptions.

During the investigation, Olsen also sold hundreds of prescriptions to addicts in other states, such as Oregon, without ever seeing the “patients” for an in-person examination. In text messages to these out-of-state customers, Olsen allegedly told customers that, in exchange for exorbitant fees as high as $3,000, he would write prescriptions for whatever drug they wanted, and that he would never check whether they were actually taking the prescribed drugs or whether they were getting additional narcotic prescriptions from other doctors. Olsen allegedly sold more than 1.2 million pills of narcotics, which were almost entirely at maximum strength, in addition to hundreds of thousands of pills of other controlled drugs such as the sedatives Xanax and Soma. The case against Olsen is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ben Barron and Bryant Yang.

In another local case involving a physician, Dr. Thomas S. Powers and Anthony Paduano were arrested Tuesday on healthcare fraud charges that allegedly bilked TRICARE.

The indictment in this case alleges that Powers, of Santa Ana, authorized prescriptions for compounded medications for patients he never examined. Under an agreement, Paduano, of Newport Beach, allegedly paid Powers $200 for each prescription. Paduano received approximately $1.2 million for referring the prescriptions to a local pharmacy that billed TRICARE more than $4.8 million and was paid more than $3.1 million. This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Aveis, Paul Stern and Cassie Palmer.

“Americans already struggling with health care issues and rising premiums are further burdened with each dollar lost to fraud,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The losses estimated in Los Angeles for this operation alone are staggering as the abundance of health care fraud schemes in southern California adds considerably to this nationwide crime issue. By collaborating with our partners, we will continue to hold accountable those who get rich by targeting federal health care programs with fraud.”

“Those who would enrich themselves through healthcare fraud – including billing for unnecessary services, accepting kickbacks, and billing for prescriptions that were never provided – are putting profits over patients, stealing from government health programs and taxpayers alike,” said Special Agent in Charge Christian Schrank, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “These operations show yet again our commitment to working with our federal and state law enforcement partners. In fighting this epidemic, we must all stand together.”

“IRS Criminal Investigation will not stand still while criminals line their pockets with illicit proceeds obtained from publicly funded health care programs,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe. “It depletes scarce taxpayer dollars and will not be tolerated. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to bring justice to those individuals who prey on the nation’s health care system for their own personal greed.”

“Our office, in partnership with our fellow investigative agencies, will continue to uncompromisingly investigate and bring to justice the people who perpetrate these criminal acts,” said Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard. We will remain vigilant in protecting Amtrak employees, retirees, and their dependents, by ensuring our health care dollars are not wasted on fraudulent providers,”

“The Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration will continue to vigorously investigate wrongdoers committing health care fraud against employer sponsored health plans in Southern California which also impact TRICARE, Medicare, Medicaid” said Crisanta Johnson, DOL-EBSA’s Los Angeles Regional Office.

The other cases filed in federal court in Los Angeles as part of the nationwide sweep are:

  • Aniceto Baliton, of Diamond Bar, co-owner and managing employee of Bliss Hospice in Glendora, was charged yesterday with one count of conspiracy to pay and receive illegal remunerations for health care referrals. The charge stems from Baliton’s role in a fraud scheme to pay kickbacks in exchange for Medicare beneficiaries referred to Bliss and billed by Bliss for hospice services. As part of the fraud scheme, Baliton and the co-owners of the hospice also agreed to generate cash for the illegal kickbacks by disguising such monies as payroll expenses. Based on the referrals that Baliton and his co-conspirators obtained through illegal kickbacks, Bliss submitted claims to Medicare and was paid approximately $2.4 million. The case is being handled by DOJ Trial Attorney Claire Yan.
  • Aleksandr Suris and Maxim Sverdlov, co-owners and operators of Royal Care Pharmacy in Los Angeles, were arrested Monday on charges related to a scheme that allegedly brought in more than $41.5 million from Medicare and CIGNA. The indictment in this case charges Suris with two counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and 10 counts of health care fraud, and Sverdlov with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and four counts of health care fraud. The defendants allegedly submitted fraudulent bills for prescription drugs that were never filled by the pharmacy or were not provided to the person to whom the drug was prescribed. The case is being handled by DOJ Trial Attorney Robyn N. Pullio.
  • Dr. Kanagasabai Kanakeswaran was indicted late last month on one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks for health care referrals and four counts of receiving kickbacks for health care referrals. The charges arise from a kickback conspiracy at a home health company called Star Home Health Resources. The owners and operators of Star allegedly paid kickbacks to referring physicians, including Dr. Kanakeswaran, in exchange for the physicians referring Medicare beneficiaries to receive home health services from Star. The indictment alleges that from May 2008 to May 2016, Star was paid $4,157,311 from Medicare based on home health services that Dr. Kanakeswaran referred to Star in exchange for illegal kickbacks. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Alex Porter and DOJ Trial Attorney Claire Yan.
  • Jamen Oliver Griffith and Damon Glover were charged late last month with conspiring to solicit, receive and pay illegal kickbacks for health care referrals. The charges stem from defendants’ role in a scheme involving undisclosed payments for generating and steering prescriptions of compounded drugs to Valley View Drugs, Inc., a pharmacy located in La Mirada. As set forth in plea agreements that have been filed in court, Griffith and Glover owned and operated Western Medical Solutions, a “marketing” company that paid non-employee “marketers” to generate compounded drug prescription referrals for Valley View. Commission payments to “marketers” for prescription referrals were based on a percentage of the amount insurance companies reimbursed Valley View. Health insurers ultimately reimbursed Valley View $13,860,083 for prescriptions generated by WMS-affiliated marketers. In turn, Valley View paid WMS approximately $7,622,864 for the prescription referrals. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Ashwin Janakiram.
  • Xiao “Kimi” Gudmundsen, a licensed acupuncturist and the owner of Healthy Life Acupuncture Center, Inc., which operated at two sites in Los Angeles and Riverside, was charged on June 22, with eight counts of health care fraud and three counts of money laundering. The charges arise from allegations that Gudmundsen recruited Amtrak employees to visit Healthy Life and then, among other things, billed the Amtrak health care plan for acupuncture and other services that were not actually provided. The indictment also charges that Gudmundsen laundered payments received from Amtrak for the false bills through various accounts, including accounts held in the names of relatives. Also charged in the indictment are Suzana Cortez, a Healthy Life employee (who faces five counts health care fraud) and Gladys Perez, an Amtrak employee (who faces two counts of health care fraud). This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Poonam Kumar.
  • James Chen pleaded guilty on June 19 to a health care fraud charge related to his pharmacy processing and billing TRICARE for approximately $62 million for fraudulent prescriptions for compounded medications after Chen paid more than 50 percent in referral fees to marketers. The case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Aveis, Paul Stern and Cassie Palmer.

Indictments and criminal informations contain allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

The cases from the Central District of California are the result of investigations conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Drug Enforcement Administration; IRS Criminal Investigation; the Office of Personnel Management, Office of Inspector General; the Veterans Administration, Office of the Inspector General; the Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration; the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division; the United States Postal Service, Office of the Inspector General; Amtrak’s Office of the Inspector General; the California Board of Pharmacy; California’s Department of Health Care Services; and the California Department of Justice.

The local cases were filed by Assistant United States Attorneys and Trial Attorneys with the Justice Department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force. The Strike Force operations are part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.

Baton Rouge-Based Medicare Fraud Strike Force Announces Charges Against Four More Individuals For Health Care Fraud And Related Offenses

Thursday, July 13, 2017

BATON ROUGE, LA – Acting United States Attorney Corey R. Amundson announced today the unsealing of two federal grand jury indictments charging four individuals with health care fraud and related offenses. The cases were unsealed as part of the 2017 National Health Care Fraud Takedown, during which federal, state, and local law enforcement partners announced charges of more than 400 defendants across 41 different federal judicial districts.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is part of the joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid fraud through enhanced cooperation. In December 2009, a Medicare Fraud Strike Force team was deployed in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Strike Force teams bring together the resources of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division—Fraud Section, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and other law enforcement agencies, including, in Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Over the past seven years, the team has continued working in Baton Rouge and expanded across southern Louisiana.

Louisiana Spine & Sports

In the first case, a federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging John Eastham CLARK, M.D., age 65, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Charlene Anita SEVERIO, age 54, of Walker, Louisiana, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud. The charges stem from Dr. CLARK and SEVERIO’s role in a $4.4 million fraud scheme in which Dr. CLARK and SEVERIO allegedly submitted false claims to Medicare and private insurance companies on behalf of Louisiana Spine & Sports LLC, a pain management clinic in Baton Rouge co-owned by Dr. CLARK. Namely, according to the indictment, Dr. CLARK, and SEVERIO, his billing supervisor, falsified claims to indicate that certain minor surgical procedures occurred on separate days as patient visits, and then instructed employees to create false records substantiating those claims. The indictment also alleges that the defendants submitted false claims seeking reimbursement for medically unnecessary quantitative urinalysis tests. The indictment charges both defendants with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, and charges Dr. CLARK with an additional two counts of health care fraud. This ongoing investigation is being handled by Dustin Davis, who serves as Assistant Chief of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division—Fraud Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Ptashkin, and Jared Hasten of the Fraud Section.

Express ACA

In the second case, a federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging Keaton L. COPELAND, age 32, of Miramar, Florida, and Dorothy V. DELIMA, a/k/a Dorothy V. Copeland, age 45, of Davie, Florida, with a scheme to submit fraudulent health insurance applications to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana and other private insurers. According to the indictment, the defendants owned and operated Express ACA, LLC, a health insurance brokerage company in Florida, and they devised a scheme to submit fraudulent health insurance applications to various insurers for health insurance plans that would satisfy the Affordable Care Act’s “minimum essential coverage” requirement. Specifically, according to the indictment, the defendants submitted numerous fraudulent applications for so-called “bronze plans,” the premiums for which were fully subsidized by the U.S. Government, without the named applicants’ knowledge, consent, or authorization. The indictment charges both COPELAND and DELIMA with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and five counts of wire fraud, and the indictment also charges COPELAND with additional counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. This ongoing investigation is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys J. Brady Casey and Ryan R. Crosswell.

***

Since its inception, the Baton Rouge-based Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged more than 80 defendants with health care fraud and related offenses, achieving a 95% conviction rate and sending nearly 50 of those defendants to federal prison.

Acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson stated, “Our medical providers spend countless hours caring for our everyday ailments, improving and extending our lives, and often fighting for us in our most desperate hours. They are rightly viewed as some of the most trusted and respected members of our society. Too often, the few dishonest providers hijack this well-earned respect and trust to line their own pockets through fraud. My office, which has sent nearly 50 healthcare fraud defendants to federal prison since the inception of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, will continue to work tirelessly with our outstanding federal, state, and local partners to root out these bad actors. I greatly appreciate all those who have contributed to this important and successful law enforcement effort.”

“The indictments returned in both of these cases affirm our commitment to protecting the integrity of our nation’s health insurance programs,” said Special Agent-in-Charge C.J. Porter of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Dallas Regional Office. “These investigations are also indicative of our continuing efforts to work closely with our Federal and State law enforcement partners to identify and bring to justice those who deliberately manipulate health insurance systems to fraudulently obtain money from Medicare, Medicaid and other federally funded health care programs.”

Jeffrey S. Sallet, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New Orleans Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stated, “Countless Americans rely on the Medicare and Medicaid programs for essential health coverage. The New Orleans Division of the FBI, along with its local, state and federal partners, will continue to identify and pursue any individuals or entities who would seek to harm and diminish these programs through fraud.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry stated, “The success of this initiative shows that collaboration between law enforcement agencies at all levels combats crime. Our investigators work around the clock to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicaid. My office and I are committed to doing all we can to save taxpayer money and protect this program for the people in our State that need it the most. I am proud of the results our team achieved during this operation and what we do daily to reduce Medicaid fraud.”

NOTE: An indictment is an accusation by the Grand Jury. The defendants are presumed innocent until and unless adjudicated guilty at trial or through a guilty plea.

U.S. Attorney Charges NW Alabama Compounding Pharmacy Sales Representatives in Prescription Fraud Conspiracy

Thursday, July 13, 2017

BIRMINGHAM – The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday charged two sales representatives for a Haleyville, Ala.,-based compounding pharmacy for participating in a conspiracy to generate prescriptions and defraud health care insurers and prescription drug administrators out of tens of millions of dollars in 2015.

Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey, FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge David W. Archey, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge, Houston Division, Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson, Defense Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey announced the charges as part of a nationwide Department of Justice Health Care Fraud Takedown.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., earlier today announced the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving about $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, more than 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s nationwide arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

In the Northern District of Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed separate informations charging KELLEY NORRIS, also known as KELLEY NORRIS-HARTLEY, 41, of Tuscaloosa, and BRIDGET McCUNE, 41, of Destin, Fla., with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud. McCune’s information also charges her with conspiring to solicit and receive kickbacks in return for referring prescriptions under Medicare and TRICARE, a U.S. Department of Defense health care program, and with money laundering for spending proceeds of the crimes. Both women face various counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent prescription reimbursement claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.

In conjunction with the charges, prosecutors also filed plea agreements with Norris and McCune.

“In this case, a pharmacy used a marketing scheme that increased sales of expensive medications without regard for patient need or medical necessity,” Posey said. “Schemes like this defraud Medicare and other health insurance systems by pushing unnecessary medications and driving up the costs of health care.”

Norris and McCune both worked for Northside Pharmacy, an Alabama company doing business as Global Compounding Pharmacy. Global’s compounding and shipping facility was in Haleyville. The pharmacy did its prescription processing, billing and customer service at its “call center” in Clearwater, Fla.

Global hired sales representatives, including Norris and McCune, who were located in various states and were responsible for generating prescriptions from physicians and other prescribers. To bill insurance providers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Medicare and TRICARE, for these prescriptions, Global contracted to enter the pharmacy networks of their third-party administrators, known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or “PBMs. These PBMs included Prime Therapeutics, Express Scripts Incorporated and CVS/Caremark.

The court documents describe a conspiracy at Global that centered on generating and billing PBMs for fraudulent, often high-reimbursement prescriptions. To generate prescriptions, Global hired sales representatives who were married or related to doctors and other prescribers. Global also encouraged sales representatives to volunteer at doctors’ offices where they would review patient files and push Global’s products to patients. Global executives also frequently instructed employees to obtain high-reimbursing prescriptions that Global would fill and bill for reimbursement. Each of the plea agreements describes a Global executive instructing sales representatives to obtain certain prescriptions and, shortly after, Norris and McCune obtained those prescriptions for themselves and their dependents.

When billing, Global engaged in various fraudulent practices, including splitting drug quantities to evade PBM billing safeguards and automatically refilling and billing for prescriptions regardless of patient need. Global routinely waived co-pays to encourage patients to accept unnecessary medications and refills.

As part of their plea agreements, Norris and McCune agree to forfeit money to the government as proceeds of illegal activity. Norris agrees to forfeit $287,698 and McCune $401,628.

Global paid the defendants a base salary plus a monthly commission for prescriptions that they obtained, according to court documents.

Norris worked out of Tuscaloosa as a sales representative for Global’s Alabama region from August 2014 to July 2016. She was closely related to an Alabama physician. That relative and a second physician, described in her plea agreement as a family friend, wrote a significant number of the prescriptions Norris obtained for Global to fill.

McCune began as a sales representative for Global’s Florida region in September 2014, working from Destin. Global promoted her to national field trainer in January 2015, but she also continued to function as a sales representative until she left the company in July 2016. McCune had a “close familial relationship” with a Florida physician, according to her plea agreement. “The overwhelming majority of prescriptions she obtained” were issued under her family member’s signature, her plea agreement states.

The charges against Norris and McCune follow charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in May against Global sales representative Robin Gary Lowry, 49, of Columbus, Miss. Lowry was charged with conspiracy to defraud BCBS of Alabama and Prime Therapeutics. She also faced three counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for payment to BCBS of Alabama.

Lowry pleaded guilty to the charges in June. She is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 7.

FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation investigated the cases, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chinelo Dike-Minor and Nicole Grosnoff are prosecuting.