Former Executive Director Of The Ramapo Local Development Corporation Pleads Guilty To Securities Fraud And Conspiracy Charges

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that N. AARON TROODLER, the former Executive Director of the Ramapo Local Development Corporation (“RLDC”), pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel to conspiring with Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence to commit securities fraud as a result of a scheme to defraud investors in municipal bonds issued by the RLDC and the Town of Ramapo (the “Town”). This case is believed to be the first conviction for federal securities fraud in connection with municipal bond issuances.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As we said at the time of his arrest, N. Aaron Troodler defrauded both the citizens of Ramapo and thousands of investors around the country, helping to sell over $150 million of municipal bonds on fabricated financials. Today, Troodler has admitted to committing securities fraud. This guilty plea, in what we believe to be the first municipal bond-related criminal securities fraud prosecution, is a big step in policing and bringing accountability to the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market.”

According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Information to which TROODLER pled guilty today and the related Indictment of TROODLER’s co-conspirator, Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence:

As of August 2015, the Town had more than $128 million in outstanding bonds that had been issued for various municipal purposes, while the RLDC, a corporation created and owned by the Town under state law, had issued $25 million in bonds to pay for the construction of Provident Bank Park (now Palisades Credit Union Park), a minor league baseball stadium in Ramapo.

The Indictment and Superseding Information charge that St. Lawrence and TROODLER lied to investors in the Town’s and RLDC’s bonds in order to conceal the deteriorating state of the Town’s finances and the inability of the RLDC to make scheduled payments of principal and interest to holders of its bonds from its own money.

While the fraud predated the construction of the stadium, the Town’s financial problems were caused largely by the $58 million total cost of the stadium. The Town paid more than half of that cost, despite the rejection of the Town’s guarantee of bonds to pay for construction of the stadium in a Town-wide referendum in 2010 and St. Lawrence’s public statements that no public money would be used to pay for the stadium.

The defendants lied to investors primarily by making up false assets in the Town’s General Fund. The General Fund is the Town’s primary operating fund. The accumulated difference over time between how much money the Town receives in taxes and fees and how much it spends in a year is the fund’s balance. The fund balance is a cushion that can be spent during difficult financial times. The size of the fund balance relative to the amount of the fund’s revenue and trends in a town’s General Fund balance over time are the primary indicators of the town’s financial health.

The Indictment alleges that St. Lawrence lied to the RLDC’s bond rating service in January 2013 when he told them in a telephone call that the 2012 fund balance would remain unchanged from the 2011 balance. Immediately after that call ended, St. Lawrence told Town employees “to do [an upcoming] refinancing of the short term debt as fast as possible because . . . we’re going to have to all be magicians to get to some of those numbers.”

The Indictment and the Superseding Information also allege that St. Lawrence and TROODLER told investors in the Town’s and RLDC’s bonds that the RLDC was making the payments on its bonds from its operating revenue, meaning money it was making from its ordinary business of running the baseball stadium and selling condominiums at a development it had built. That was important to investors because it led them to believe that the Town would not have to pay off the RLDC’s $25 million bonds. It also made the RLDC’s bonds look less risky. The RLDC actually made those payments from money TROODLER borrowed from the bank or money TROODLER obtained from the Town at St. Lawrence’s direction.

When the RLDC issued $25 million in bonds to build the stadium building itself in 2011, St. Lawrence inflated the size of the Town’s General Fund by including a false $3.6 million receivable in the General Fund. The Town’s financial condition was important to investors in the RLDC’s bonds because the Town guaranteed the payments of principal and interest on the bonds. Without that fake asset, the General Fund’s balance would have been negative in that year.

In addition, St. Lawrence inflated the General Fund with another fake receivable for $3.08 million from 2010 through 2015. It first went on the Town’s books when the RLDC agreed to buy property known as The Hamlets from the Town for $3.08 million. That sale never closed because the land turned out to be a habitat for rattlesnakes. Rather than take the receivable off the Town’s books – and reduce the size of the General Fund balance by $3.08 million, thereby creating a negative balance – St. Lawrence claimed the receivable had to do with the RLDC’s purchase of another property from the Town that had already taken place. To keep it on the books, St. Lawrence then caused the Town Attorney to tell the Town’s auditors over a period of years that the receivable would be paid back within a year, which was required if the receivable was going to stay in the General Fund. Without this fake receivable alone, the Town’s General Fund balance would have been negative for years.

In May 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) searched Town Hall in connection with this investigation. Less than 10 days later, St. Lawrence inflated another receivable in the General Fund – this one for money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) to reimburse the Town for expenses from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. St. Lawrence claimed that the Town was going to receive $3.145 million from FEMA when the Town hadn’t even submitted those claims to FEMA yet. Without St. Lawrence’s inflation of this receivable alone, the projected General Fund balance for 2012 would have been negative when the Town sold bonds in May 2013.

Finally, the Indictment alleges that St. Lawrence also inflated the General Fund balance by making more than $12 million in transfers from the Town’s Ambulance Fund to the General Fund from 2009 to 2014. The group of properties in Ramapo that pays into the Ambulance Fund is different from the group of properties that pays into the General Fund. Under state law, transfers between funds with different tax bases can only be loans. St. Lawrence told the auditors that the two funds had the same tax base to justify the transfers.

* * *

TROODLER, 42, of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, pled guilty to one count of securities fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

TROODLER is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Seibel on September 18, 2017, at 3:30 p.m.

The charges against Christopher St. Lawrence contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office. He also thanked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for their assistance in the investigation.

This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys James McMahon, Daniel Loss, and Stephen J. Ritchin are in charge of the prosecution.

Kiekert AG to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging Involving Auto Parts

Kiekert AG, an automotive parts manufacturer based in Heiligenhaus, Germany, has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $6.1 million criminal fine for its role in a conspiracy to rig bids of side-door latches and latch minimodules installed in cars sold in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to a one-count felony charge filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Kiekert participated in a conspiracy to eliminate competition by agreeing to allocate sales, rig bids and fix prices for side-door latches and latch minimodules sold to Ford Motor Company and its subsidiaries in the United States and elsewhere between September 2008 and May 2013.  In addition to Kiekert’s agreement to pay a $6.1 million criminal fine, the manufacturer has agreed to cooperate with the department’s ongoing investigation.  The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

“The Antitrust Division has uncovered conspiracies involving more than 50 automotive parts,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “Automobile manufacturers, and the American consumers who buy their cars, are entitled to prices set by competition, not secret cartels.”

“Americans expect corporations in the United States and overseas to conduct their business honestly.  To do anything less, compromises consumer trust,” said Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios of FBI’s Detroit Division.  “Today’s plea agreement of Kiekert AG, demonstrates the resolve of the FBI and the Department of Justice to protect American consumers from price fixing and bid rigging schemes that ultimately harm the U.S. economy.”

Side-door latches secure car doors to the body.  Latch minimodules include the side-door latch and all related mechanical operating components, including the electronic lock function.

According to the charges, Kiekert officials participated in meetings and communications with representatives of another major side-door latch producer, during which they agreed to allocate sales, rig bids and fix prices submitted to Ford.  To effectuate those agreements, the conspirators exchanged information on bids and price quotations for submission to Ford.

Today’s charge is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement sections and the FBI.  Including Kiekert, 48 companies and 65 executives have been charged in the division’s ongoing investigation and have agreed to pay a total of more than $2.9 billion in criminal fines.

These charges were brought by the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office and the FBI’s Detroit Field Office with the assistance of the FBI headquarters’ International Corruption Unit.

Kiekert AG Information

Founder of Non-Profit Charged with Bribing Former Prince George’s County Official in Exchange for Grant Funds

A Maryland man has been charged with bribery and making false statements as part of an alleged scheme to obtain government grants for a charitable organization of which he was the founder. The  case was brought via a criminal complaint filed by the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland. It alleges that the defendant made three annual payments of $5000 each to a member of the Prince George’s County Council to secure annual grants of $25,000 for the Salvadoran Business Caucus, which claimed to award scholarships to high school and college students.
The agent affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint describes conversations  that allegedly occurred between the council member and  the defendant in sufficient detail as to indicate that tape recordings of the conversations exist.
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Greenbelt, Maryland – A criminal complaint has been filed charging

, of Rockville, Maryland, late yesterday with bribery and making false statements in connection with a scheme to engage in bribery in order to influence a public official in the performance of his official duties in Prince George’s County. Ayala’s initial appearance is scheduled today at 1:45 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The criminal complaint was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; and Chief Hank Stawinski of the Prince George’s County Police Department.

According to affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Ayala was an accountant and founder of Ayala and Associates Public Accountants in Washington, D.C. Ayala was also the founder of the Salvadoran Business Caucus, a non-profit organization also known as the Caucus Salvadoreno Empresarial, Inc. (CSE). CSE’s website stated that CSE awarded scholarships to high school and college students.

The affidavit alleges that Ayala paid bribes to former Prince George’s County Council Member Will Campos in exchange for grant funding. Specifically, the affidavit alleges that Ayala paid Campos $5,000 for each of County fiscal years 2012 through 2015, in exchange for $25,000 in grants to CSE in each of those years. For example, on August 13, 2014, Campos met with Ayala for lunch in Washington, D.C. During the meeting, Ayala asked Campos what would happen after Campos left his position on the County Council and assumed his position within the Maryland General Assembly. According to the affidavit, Ayala advised, “The arrangement is still on,” and Campos asked if Ayala had anything for Campos. Ayala asked Campos to give him two weeks, and “I [Ayala] call you and I’ll say let’s, let’s have a drink and you know what it’s for.” Campos asked for $5,000, “like last time,” and Ayala agreed.

According to the affidavit, on September 23, 2014, Ayala had dinner with Campos at a restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland, and discussed the grant money. Specifically, Campos advised that he would push for Ayala to still receive grant money after Campos left office. At the conclusion of the meal, Ayala walked Campos out of the restaurant and allegedly handed Campos an envelope bearing a label for CSE and containing a cashier’s check for half the agreed upon amount. The affidavit alleges that Ayala explained, “I was unable to obtain cash. It’s better like this. This comes from – from a third party who knows me, so it’s better.” Campos joked that Ayala was paying “half now, half later,” and Ayala responded, “I would say that.”

According to the affidavit, on January 8, 2015, Ayala met with Campos at Ayala’s office in Washington, D.C. Ayala reached into his desk and retrieved an envelope. Ayala handed the envelope to Campos, who asked if it was “the rest that we talked about? 2,500?” and Ayala responded, “Yeah.” The affidavit alleges that inside the envelope, Ayala had placed $2,500 in cash.

On January 5, 2017, Ayala was interviewed by federal law enforcement agents. The affidavit alleges that Ayala denied providing anything of value to Campos in exchange for receiving Prince George’s County grant money for CSE. Thereafter, agents showed Ayala still photographs from videos taken while Ayala was making bribe payments to Campos on September 23, 2014 and January 8, 2015.

If convicted, Ayala faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison for bribery, and a maximum of five years in prison for false statements. An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI, IRS-CI, and Prince Georges County Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas P. Windom, Mara Zusman Greenberg, and James A. Crowell IV, who are prosecuting the case.

Latest GrantFraud.Com post involves a $200 million credit card fraud scheme

Bradford L. Geyer is reading enforcement agency tea leaves and he is seeing signs of enhanced enforcement involving grant fraud and procurement fraud at grantfraud.com.  His latest note regarding an extensive credit card fraud scheme can be found here.

GrantFraud.Com: Former DOD Employee Sentenced for GSA Advantage thefts

As part of our effort to track white collar enforcement trends with the new Administration we will be tracking developments in grant fraud enforcement and procurement fraud enforcement over at GrantFraud.Com that is under construction and open.  You may click the title below to see a new grant fraud case filing involving GSA Advantage theft.  As is often the case between election and inauguration, career employees under “acting” top managers start to react to perceptions about what the new Administration’s enforcemenet priorities will be.  For a variety of reasons that Brad Geyer will be blogging about, we are projecting emboldened grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement moving forward

Former DOD Employee Sentenced for GSA Advantage thefts

GrantFraud.Com: Former DHS Employee Inprisoned for Stealing USDA Funds

As part of our effort to track white collar enforcement trends with the new Administration we will be tracking developments in grant fraud enforcement and procurement fraud enforcement over at GrantFraud.Com that is under construction and open.  You may click the title below to see a new USDA grant fraud case filing.  For a variety of reasons that Brad Geyer will be blogging about, we are projecting emboldened grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement moving forward

Former DHS Employee Sentenced to Prison in Scheme to Steal USDA Funds Intended to Feed Hungry Children & Little Rock Man Pleads Guilty in Same Scheme

 

 

 

Contractor Admits Attempting To Bribe West New York, New Jersey, Official To Eliminate More Than $8.7 Million In Fire Code Violations

NEWARK, N.J. – A North Bergen, New Jersey, man today admitted paying cash bribes to a West New York, New Jersey, fire official to eliminate millions of dollars in outstanding fines and penalties on buildings with fire code violations, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Victor Coca, 48, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas to Count One and Count Two of an indictment charging him with paying bribes to a local government employee.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Coca was the owner and president of a general contracting company in West New York. Two buildings in West New York had outstanding fines for fire code violations. The first building, located on Bergenline Avenue and owned by a friend of his, had approximately $14,500 in fines and penalties for outstanding fire code violations. Coca agreed to pay a fire official for the West New York Bureau of Fire Prevention, a witness who was voluntarily cooperating with federal authorities, a $2,000 cash bribe to eliminate the outstanding fire code fines and penalties. On March 27, 2014, Coca handed the fire official a $2,000 cash bribe.

The second building, located on Hudson Avenue and partly-owned by Coca, had more than $8.7 million in fines and penalties for outstanding fire code violations. Coca paid a $5,000 cash bribe to the fire official in return for the fire official purportedly reducing the amount due to the West New York Bureau of Fire Prevention to the initial fine amount of $5,000.

The two bribery counts to which Coca pleaded guilty each carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2015.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

Defense counsel:

Howard Brownstein Esq., Union City, New Jersey
Nelson Gonzalez Esq., Dover, New Jersey

Detroit-Area Neurosurgeon Admits Causing Serious Bodily Injury to Patients in $11 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

A Detroit-area neurosurgeon pleaded guilty today in two separate criminal cases that resulted in serious bodily injury to his patients and more than $11 million in Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan, Special Agent in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, Assistant Director in Charge David L. Bowdich of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Special Agent in Charge Glenn R. Ferry of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Los Angeles Region and Special Agent in Charge Marlon Miller of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations’ (ICE-HSI) Detroit Field Office made the announcement.

“Disregarding his Hippocratic oath to do no harm, Dr. Sabit enriched himself by performing unnecessary, invasive spinal surgeries and implanting costly and unnecessary medical devices, all at the expense of his patients’ health and welfare,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “Doctors who sell their medical judgment and ethics for personal profit endanger the lives and safety of vulnerable patients who count on their advice to make life-altering decisions.  The Criminal Division of the Department of Justice will continue to prioritize the prosecution of doctors whose criminal behavior puts patients at risk.”

“This case of health care fraud is particularly egregious because Dr. Sabit caused serious bodily injury to his patients by acting out of his own greed instead of the best interests of his patients,” said U.S. Attorney McQuade.  “Not only did he steal $11 million in insurance proceeds, but he also betrayed his trust to patients by lying to them about the procedures that were medically necessary and that were actually performed.”

Aria O. Sabit, M.D., 39, of Birmingham, Michigan, entered his guilty pleas in both criminal cases at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman of the Eastern District of Michigan.  Sabit pleaded guilty to four counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, resulting in losses to Medicare, Medicaid and various private insurance companies.  A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 15, 2015.

According to court documents, Sabit was a licensed neurosurgeon who owned and operated the Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group with various locations in the Eastern District of Michigan, including Southfield, Michigan, Clinton Township, Michigan, and Dearborn, Michigan, which opened in approximately April 2011.

During his guilty plea today, Sabit admitted that he derived significant profits by convincing patients to undergo spinal fusion surgeries with instrumentation (meaning specific medical devices designed to stabilize and strengthen the spine), which he never rendered, and subsequently billing public and private healthcare benefit programs for those fraudulent services.

Sabit further admitted he operated on patients and dictated in his operative reports—that he knew would later be used to support his fraudulent insurance claims—that he had performed spinal fusion with instrumentation, which he never performed.  This invasive surgery caused serious bodily injury to the patients.  Sabit admitted that his operative reports and treatment records contained false statements about the procedures performed, and the instrumentation used in the procedures.  Sabit also admitted that, on occasion, he would implant cortical bone dowels and falsely dictate in his operative reports that he had implanted instrumentation.  Sabit, then fraudulently billed public and private health care programs for instrumentation, when in fact the implants were tissue.  Sabit admitted he failed to render services in relation to lumbar and thoracic fusion surgeries, including in certain instances, billing for implants that were not provided.

Sabit also admitted that, prior to moving to Michigan, he was a resident of Ventura, California, and a licensed neurosurgeon in California.  He admitted that in approximately February 2010, he became involved with Apex Medical Technologies LLC (Apex) while he was on the staff of a California hospital.

Apex was owned by another neurosurgeon and three non-physicians who operated Apex as a physician-owned distributorship and paid neurosurgeons lucrative illegal kickbacks tied directly to the volume and complexity of the surgeries that the surgeons performed, and the number of Apex spinal implant devices the surgeons used in their spine surgeries.

In exchange for the opportunity to invest in Apex and share in its profits, Sabit admitted that he agreed to convince his hospital to buy spinal implant devices from Apex and use a sufficient number of Apex spinal implant devices in his spine surgeries.  Sabit further admitted that he and Apex’s co-owners used Apex to operate an illegal kickback scheme.  In doing so, they concealed Sabit’s involvement in Apex from outsiders.  Sabit then required the hospitals and surgical centers where he and his fellow neurosurgeon performed surgeries to purchase spinal implant devices from Apex.

Sabit admitted that his involvement in Apex, and the financial incentives provided to him by Apex and his co-conspirators, caused him to compromise his medical judgment and cause serious bodily injury to his patients by performing medically unnecessary spine surgeries on some of the patients in whom he implanted Apex spinal implant devices.  Sabit admitted that on a few occasions, the money he made from using Apex spinal implant devices motivated him either to refer patients in for spine surgery who did not medically need surgery or refer his patients for more complex surgeries, such as multi-level spine fusions, that they did not need.

Sabit also admitted that the financial incentives provided to him by Apex and his co-conspirators caused him to “over instrument” his patients (meaning Sabit used more spinal implant devices than were medically necessary to treat his patients) in order to generate more sales revenue for Apex, which resulted in serious bodily injury to his patients.

The Michigan case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and ICE.  The California case—which was subsequently transferred to the Eastern District of Michigan—was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG.  The Michigan case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Regina R. McCullough and Philip A. Ross of the Eastern District of Michigan.  The California case 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 of the Eastern District of Michigan, and is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum and Trial Attorneys Dustin Davis and Blanca Quintero of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Sabit is also a defendant in two civil False Claims Act cases brought by the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 2,100 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $6.5 billion.  In addition, the HHS’s 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.

United States Settles Kickback Allegations with Georgia Hospital

The Department of Justice announced today that the United States has settled a False Claims Act lawsuit with Health Management Associates (HMA) and Clearview Regional Medical Center for $595,155.  The lawsuit filed in the Middle District of Georgia alleged that from 2008 to 2009 the hospital paid kickbacks to an obstetric clinic that served primarily undocumented Hispanic women, in return for referral of those patients for labor and delivery at the hospital.  The hospital then billed the Medicaid program in Georgia for the services provided to the referred patients.  Clearview, located in Monroe, Georgia, was named Walton Regional Medical Center and was owned by hospital operator HMA during the time period relevant to the lawsuit.  Clearview is now owned by Community Health Systems (CHS), which purchased HMA in January 2014.

“This resolution illustrates our commitment to ensuring that health care providers who pay kickbacks in return for patient referrals are held accountable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Schemes such as this one corrupt the health care system and take advantage of vulnerable patients.”

“The Medicaid program is a vital part of the government’s efforts to make sure that everyone has access to health care,” said U.S. Attorney Georgia Michael J. Moore of the Middle District of Georgia.  “Instead of providing health care services to expectant mothers in its area and receiving payment for those services from Medicaid, the hospital participated in a scheme to pay kickbacks in exchange for having pregnant women from outside its market funneled to its facility with the goal of increasing the amount of Medicaid money the hospital could claim.”

The United States’ complaint alleges that HMA’s Walton Regional Medical Center paid kickbacks to Hispanic Medical Management doing business as Clinica de la Mama (Clinica) and related entities, in return for Clinica’s agreement to send pregnant women to Walton Regional for deliveries paid for by Medicaid, in violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.  The kickbacks were disguised as payments for a variety of services allegedly provided by Clinica.

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering, paying, soliciting or receiving remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other federally funded programs.  The Anti-Kickback Statute is intended to ensure that a physician’s medical judgment is not compromised by improper financial incentives and is instead based on the best interests of the patient.

“Hospitals that pay kickbacks to clinics for referrals of undocumented pregnant patients are taking advantage of both these vulnerable women and the taxpayer-funded Medicaid program,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Atlanta Regional Office.  “Our agency is dedicated to investigating such corrosive kickback schemes, which undermine the public’s trust in medical institutions and the financial health of government health care programs.”

“The FBI is proud of the role it played in bringing forward today’s settlement, said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI Atlanta Field Office.  “The FBI will continue to provide significant investigative assets and resources to ensure that the integrity of federally funded health care programs such as Medicaid are protected from providers who would abuse them.”

As part of the settlement, HMA and Clearview will pay the State of Georgia an additional $396,770 to settle Georgia’s claims under the Georgia False Medicaid Claims Act.  The Medicaid program is a jointly funded federal-state program that provides health care to the poor and disabled.  Although undocumented aliens are not eligible for regular Medicaid coverage, the Medicaid program provides coverage for emergency conditions, including childbirth, for undocumented aliens.

The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act.  The Act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government for false claims for government funds and to receive a share of any recovery.  The False Claims Act also permits the government to intervene in such lawsuits, as it did in this case against Walton Regional, as well as several other defendants, including Clinica de la Mama and four hospitals owned by Tenet Healthcare Corporation.  The litigation against the non-settling defendants is ongoing.  The relator, Ralph D. Williams, the chief financial officer of Walton Regional from April 2009 to October 2009, will receive $119,031 from the United States’ portion of the settlement.

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 the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  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 $24 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $15.3 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Middle and Northern Districts of Georgia, HHS-OIG, FBI and the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Georgia.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Williams v. Health Mgmt. Assocs. Inc., et al., No. 3:09-CV-130 (M.D. Ga.).

The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

Four People Arrested and Charged in Cross-Country Insider Trading Scheme

The owner and operator of a stock trading operation and three of his associates were arrested today on charges arising from their alleged participation in a multi-year insider trading scheme that netted more than $3.2 million in illicit profits, announced today by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman for the District of New Jersey.

Steven Fishoff, 58, of Westlake Village, California, Ronald Chernin, 66, of Oak Park, California, Steven Costantin aka Steven Constantin, 54, of Farmingdale, New Jersey, and Paul Petrello, 53, of Boca Raton, Florida, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.  Fishoff is charged with four substantive counts of securities fraud, Chernin and Petrello are each charged with two counts of securities fraud and Costantin is charged with one count of securities fraud.

The defendants were arrested by FBI agents this morning at their respective residences.  Costantin is scheduled to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark, New Jersey, federal court.  Fishoff is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenly Kiya Kato in Riverside, California, federal court, Chernin is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carla Woehrle in Los Angeles, Californina, federal court, and Petrello is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon in West Palm Beach, Florida, federal court.

“The defendants and their associates were entrusted with confidential, nonpublic information about companies and time and time again, they allegedly violated that trust by illegally trading the companies’ stock for substantial profits,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman.  “They allegedly rigged the game so they would always win, and their profits came at the expense of legitimate investors, who were not privy to this inside information.”

“Insider trading is an investigative priority of the FBI,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel for the FBI in Newark, New Jersey.  “The FBI is committed to stopping insider trading and will hold those who perpetrate these schemes accountable because their illegal activities undermine the integrity of the U.S. financial markets and weaken investor confidence.”

“We allege an insider trading scheme based on a short-selling business model designed to systematically profit on confidential information obtained under false pretenses,” said Senior Associate Director Sanjay Wadhwa for Enforcement in the SEC’s Regional Office in New York.  “But the defendants’ short selling proved to be short-sighted as they overlooked the fact that their trading patterns would be detected and they would be caught by law enforcement.”

According to the complaint unsealed today, Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, Petrello and others, acting individually and through their associated trading entities, engaged in an insider trading scheme in which they netted more than $3.2 million in illicit profits over three years by executing illegal trades through trading entities that they controlled.

Fishoff is the president and sole owner of Featherwood Capital Inc. (Featherwood), a trading entity that he operates out of his home.  Featherwood maintained numerous stock trading accounts in its own name and in various additional names under which Featherwood did business (DBAs), including Gold Coast Total Return Inc. (Gold Coast), Seaside Capital Inc. (Seaside) and Data Complete Inc. (Data Complete).

Chernin, an attorney who was disbarred in California for misappropriation of client assets, is a friend and longtime business associate of Fishoff.  Corporate documents list Chernin as the president of Gold Coast and Fishoff as an officer.  Chernin is president of the trading entity Cedar Lane Enterprises Inc. (Cedar Lane) and an officer of Data Complete.

Costantin, a former pipefitter by trade, is Fishoff’s brother-in-law and a friend and business associate of Chernin.  Corporate documents list Costanstin as president of Seaside.  In brokerage account documents, Fishoff identifies himself as Seaside’s owner.  Costanstin is also the vice president and secretary of Cedar Lane.

Petrello is the president and owner of two trading entities, Brielle Properties Inc. and Oceanview Property Management LLC and a friend and longtime business associate of Fishoff.

On numerous occasions, the conspirators obtained material, nonpublic information related to publicly traded companies and traded on that information before it became public.  Between June 2010 and July 2013, Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin and a business associate referred to in the complaint as “Trader A” expressed interest in participating in at least 14 stock offerings by publicly traded companies.  Before providing these individuals with confidential information concerning the companies or the terms of the proposed sales, the investment bankers first required that Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, Trader A and their associated trading entities, agree to be “brought over the wall,” or “wall-crossed,” standard industry terms which meant that they were required to keep the information disclosed to them confidential and could not buy or sell the stock based on the information.

Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin and Trader A agreed to these disclosure and trading restrictions and then flagrantly breached the agreements.  In instances where Fishoff was not personally wall-crossed in an offering, Chernin and Costantin tipped Fishoff telephonically or by email about the offering prior to the public announcement.  Even where Fishoff ostensibly was a party to the confidentiality agreement, through his affiliation with the wall-crossed trading entity, Fishoff himself breached the agreement by trading on the confidential information and by providing the information to Petrello so that Petrello could engage in parallel trading.  There were also instances where Chernin and Costantin violated the terms of the confidentiality agreements by trading themselves before the offering.  The conspirators traded through the accounts of the trading entities or through related accounts that they controlled.  The conspirators shared the proceeds of the insider trading scheme, with Fishoff wiring money to Chernin and Costantin for their services and Fishoff receiving compensation from Petrello for the offering-related tips that Fishoff provided to him.

The conspiracy count with which each defendant is charged carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the aggregate loss to victims or gain to the defendants.   Each of the substantive securities fraud charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Frankel, for the investigation leading to today’s arrests and complaint.  He also thanked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s New York Regional Office under the direction of Andrew Calamari.  He also thanked special agents of the FBI, Los Angeles (Ventura Resident Agency and Riverside Resident Agency) and FBI, Miami (West Palm Beach Resident Agency) for their assistance.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shirley U. Emehelu of the Economic Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, New Jersey and Acting Chief Barbara Ward for the of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’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’s 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.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.stopfraud.gov