FinCEN Fines BTC-e Virtual Currency Exchange $110 Million for Facilitating Ransomware, Dark Net Drug Sales

July 26, 2017

Treasury’s First Action Against a Foreign-Located Money Services Business

WASHINGTON—The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), working in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, assessed a $110,003,314 civil money penalty today against BTC-e a/k/a Canton Business Corporation (BTC-e) for willfully violating U.S. anti-money laundering (AML) laws. Russian national Alexander Vinnik, one of the operators of BTC-e, was arrested in Greece this week, and FinCEN assessed a $12 million penalty against him for his role in the violations.

BTC-e is an internet-based, foreign-located money transmitter that exchanges fiat currency as well as the convertible virtual currencies Bitcoin, Litecoin, Namecoin, Novacoin, Peercoin, Ethereum, and Dash. It is one of the largest virtual currency exchanges by volume in the world. BTC-e facilitated transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking.

“We will hold accountable foreign-located money transmitters, including virtual currency exchangers, that do business in the United States when they willfully violate U.S. anti-money laundering laws,” said Jamal El-Hindi, Acting Director for FinCEN. “This action should be a strong deterrent to anyone who thinks that they can facilitate ransomware, dark net drug sales, or conduct other illicit activity using encrypted virtual currency. Treasury’s FinCEN team and our law enforcement partners will work with foreign counterparts across the globe to appropriately oversee virtual currency exchangers and administrators who attempt to subvert U.S. law and avoid complying with U.S. AML safeguards.”

FinCEN acted in coordination with law enforcement’s seizure of BTC-e and Vinnik’s arrest. The Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Secret Service, and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the criminal investigation.

Among other violations, BTC-e failed to obtain required information from customers beyond a username, a password, and an e-mail address. Instead of acting to prevent money laundering, BTC-e and its operators embraced the pervasive criminal activity conducted at the exchange. Users openly and explicitly discussed criminal activity on BTC-e’s user chat. BTC-e’s customer service representatives offered advice on how to process and access money obtained from illegal drug sales on dark net markets like Silk Road, Hansa Market, and AlphaBay.

BTC-e also processed transactions involving funds stolen between 2011 and 2014 from one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox. BTC-e processed over 300,000 bitcoin in transactions traceable to the theft. FinCEN has also identified at least $3 million of facilitated transactions tied to ransomware attacks such as “Cryptolocker” and “Locky.” Further, BTC-e shared customers and conducted transactions with the now-defunct money laundering website Liberty Reserve. FinCEN previously issued a finding under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act that identified Liberty Reserve as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern.

BTC-e has conducted over $296 million in transactions of bitcoin alone and tens of thousands of transactions in other convertible virtual currencies. The transactions included funds sent from customers located within the United States to recipients who were also located within the United States. BTC-e also concealed its geographic location and its ownership. Regardless of its ownership or location, the company was required to comply with U.S. AML laws and regulations as a foreign-located MSB including AML program, MSB registration, suspicious activity reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. This is the second supervisory enforcement action FinCEN has taken against a business that operates as an exchanger of virtual currency, and the first it has taken against a foreign-located MSB doing business in the United States.

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FinCEN’s mission is to safeguard the financial system from illicit use and combat money laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and strategic use of financial authorities.

CONTACT: Steve Hudak 703-905-3770

Assessment:

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National Health Care Fraud Takedown Results in Charges Against Over 412 Individuals Responsible for $1.3 Billion in Fraud Losses

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Largest Health Care Fraud Enforcement Action in Department of Justice History

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, M.D., announced today 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 approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, over 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 arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Price were joined in the announcement by Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting Director Andrew McCabe of the FBI, Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Inspector General Daniel Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), Chief Don Fort of IRS Criminal Investigation, Administrator Seema Verma of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Deputy Director Kelly P. Mayo of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).

Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Unit in conjunction with its Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF) partners, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG.  In addition, the operation includes the participation of the DEA, DCIS, and State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.

The charges announced today aggressively target schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE (a health insurance program for members and veterans of the armed forces and their families) for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that often were never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries. The charges also involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a particular focus for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 91 Americans die every day of an opioid related overdose.

“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” said Attorney General Sessions. “Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion dollar criminal enterprises. They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start. The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost, and graveyards.  While today is a historic day, the Department’s work is not finished. In fact, it is just beginning. We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are.”

“Healthcare fraud is not only a criminal act that costs billions of taxpayer dollars – it is an affront to all Americans who rely on our national healthcare programs for access to critical healthcare services and a violation of trust,” said Secretary Price. “The United States is home to the world’s best medical professionals, but their ability to provide affordable, high-quality care to their patients is jeopardized every time a criminal commits healthcare fraud. That is why this Administration is committed to bringing these criminals to justice, as President Trump demonstrated in his 2017 budget request calling for a new $70 million investment in the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program. The historic results of this year’s national takedown represent significant progress toward protecting the integrity and sustainability of Medicare and Medicaid, which we will continue to build upon in the years to come.”

According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. In many cases, patient recruiters, beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were allegedly paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never performed. The number of medical professionals charged is particularly significant, because virtually every health care fraud scheme requires a corrupt medical professional to be involved in order for Medicare or Medicaid to pay the fraudulent claims.  Aggressively pursuing corrupt medical professionals not only has a deterrent effect on other medical professionals, but also ensures that their licenses can no longer be used to bilk the system.

“This week, thanks to the work of dedicated investigators and analysts, we arrested once-trusted doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals who were corrupted by greed,” said Acting Director McCabe. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners on the front lines of the fight against heath care fraud to stop those who steal from the government and deceive the American public.”

“Health care fraud is a reprehensible crime.  It not only represents a theft from taxpayers who fund these vital programs, but impacts the millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid,” said Inspector General Levinson. “In the worst fraud cases, greed overpowers care, putting patients’ health at risk. OIG will continue to play a vital leadership role in the Medicare Fraud Strike Force to track down those who abuse important federal health care programs.”

“Our enforcement actions underscore the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our partners to vigorously investigate fraud perpetrated against the DoD’s TRICARE Program. We will continue to relentlessly investigate health care fraud, ensure the taxpayers’ health care dollars are properly spent, and endeavor to guarantee our service members, military retirees, and their dependents receive the high standard of care they deserve,” advised Deputy Director Mayo.

“Last year, an estimated 59,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, many linked to the misuse of prescription drugs. This is, quite simply, an epidemic,” said Acting Administrator Rosenberg. “There is a great responsibility that goes along with handling controlled prescription drugs, and DEA and its partners remain absolutely committed to fighting the opioid epidemic using all the tools at our disposal.”

“Every defendant in today’s announcement shares one common trait – greed,” said Chief Fort. “The desire for money and material items drove these individuals to perpetrate crimes against our healthcare system and prey upon many of the vulnerable in our society.  Thanks to the financial expertise and diligence of IRS-CI special agents, who worked side-by-side with other federal, state and local law enforcement officers to uncover these schemes, these criminals are off the street and will now face the consequences of their actions.”

The Medicare Fraud 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. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

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For the Strike Force locations, in the Southern District of Florida, a total of 77 defendants were charged with offenses relating to their participation in various fraud schemes involving over $141 million in false billings for services including home health care, mental health services and pharmacy fraud.  In one case, the owner and operator of a purported addiction treatment center and home for recovering addicts and one other individual were charged in a scheme involving the submission of over $58 million in fraudulent medical insurance claims for purported drug treatment services. The allegations include actively recruiting addicted patients to move to South Florida so that the co-conspirators could bill insurance companies for fraudulent treatment and testing, in return for which, the co-conspirators offered kickbacks to patients in the form of gift cards, free airline travel, trips to casinos and strip clubs, and drugs.

In the Eastern District of Michigan, 32 defendants face charges for their alleged roles in fraud, kickback, money laundering and drug diversion schemes involving approximately $218 million in false claims for services that were medically unnecessary or never rendered. In one case, nine defendants, including six physicians, were charged with prescribing medically unnecessary controlled substances, some of which were sold on the street, and billing Medicare for $164 million in facet joint injections, drug testing, and other procedures that were medically unnecessary and/or not provided.

In the Southern District of Texas, 26 individuals were charged in cases involving over $66 million in alleged fraud. Among these defendants are a physician and a clinic owner who were indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances and three substantive counts of distribution of controlled substances in connection with a purported pain management clinic that is alleged to have been the highest prescribing hydrocodone clinic in Houston, where approximately 60-70 people were seen daily, and were issued medically unnecessary prescriptions for hydrocodone in exchange for approximately $300 cash per visit.

In the Central District of California, 17 defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare out of approximately $147 million. Two of these defendants were indicted for their alleged involvement in a $41.5 million scheme to defraud Medicare and a private insurer. This was purportedly done by submitting fraudulent claims, and receiving payments for, prescription drugs that were not filled by the pharmacy nor given to patients.

In the Northern District of Illinois, 15 individuals were charged in cases related to six different schemes concerning home health care services and physical therapy fraud, kickbacks, and mail and wire fraud.  These schemes involved allegedly over $12.7 million in fraudulent billing. One case allegedly involved $7 million in fraudulent billing to Medicare for home health services that were not necessary nor rendered.

In the Middle District of Florida, 10 individuals were charged with participating in a variety of schemes involving almost $14 million in fraudulent billing.  In one case, three defendants were charged in a $4 million scheme to defraud the TRICARE program.  In that case, it is alleged that a defendant falsely represented himself to be a retired Lieutenant Commander of the United States Navy Submarine Service. It is alleged that he did so in order to gain the trust and personal identifying information from TRICARE beneficiaries, many of whom were members and veterans of the armed forces, for use in the scheme.

In the Eastern District of New York, ten individuals were charged with participating in a variety of schemes including kickbacks, services not rendered, and money laundering involving over $151 million in fraudulent billings to Medicare and Medicaid. Approximately $100 million of those fraudulent billings were allegedly part of a scheme in which five health care professionals paid illegal kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals to their own clinics.

In the Southern Louisiana Strike Force, operating in the Middle and Eastern Districts of Louisiana as well as the Southern District of Mississippi, seven defendants were charged in connection with health care fraud, wire fraud, and kickback schemes involving more than $207 million in fraudulent billing. One case involved a pharmacist who was charged with submitting and causing the submission of $192 million in false and fraudulent claims to TRICARE and other health care benefit programs for dispensing compounded medications that were not medically necessary and often based on prescriptions induced by illegal kickback payments.

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In addition to the Strike Force locations, today’s enforcement actions include cases and investigations brought by an additional 31 U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including the execution of search warrants in investigations conducted by the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Ohio.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Alabama, three defendants were charged for their roles in two health care fraud schemes involving pharmacy fraud and drug diversion.

In the Eastern District of Arkansas, 24 defendants were charged for their roles in three drug diversion schemes that were all investigated by the DEA.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of California, four defendants, including a physician, were charged for their roles in a drug diversion scheme and a health care fraud scheme involving kickbacks.

In the District of Connecticut, three defendants were charged in two health care fraud schemes, including a scheme involving two physicians who fraudulently billed Medicaid for services that were not rendered and for the provision of oxycodone with knowledge that the prescriptions were not medically necessary.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Georgia, three defendants were charged in two health care fraud schemes involving nearly $1.5 million in fraudulent billing.

In the Southern District of Illinois, five defendants were charged in five separate schemes to defraud the Medicaid program.

In the Northern and Southern Districts of Indiana, at least five defendants were charged in various health care fraud schemes related to the unlawful distribution and dispensing of controlled substances, kickbacks, and services not rendered.

In the Southern District of Iowa, five defendants were charged in two schemes involving the distribution of opioids.

In the Western District of Kentucky, 11 defendants were charged with defrauding the Medicaid program.  In one case, four defendants, including three medical professionals, were charged with distributing controlled substances and fraudulently billing the Medicaid program.

In the District of Maine, an office manager was charged with embezzling funds from a medical office.

In the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri, 16 defendants were charged in schemes involving over $16 million in claims, including 10 defendants charged as part of a scheme involving fraudulent lab testing.

In the District of Nebraska, a dentist was charged with defrauding the Medicaid program.

In the District of Nevada, two defendants, including a physician, were charged in a scheme involving false hospice claims.

In the Northern, Southern, and Western Districts of New York, five defendants, including two physicians and two pharmacists, were charged in schemes involving drug diversion and pharmacy fraud.

In the Southern District of Ohio, five defendants, including four physicians, were charged in connection with schemes involving $12 million in claims to the Medicaid program.

In the District of Puerto Rico, 13 defendants, including three physicians and two pharmacists, were charged in four schemes involving drug diversion, Medicaid fraud, and the theft of funds from a health care program.

In the Eastern District of Tennessee, three defendants were charged in a scheme involving fraudulent billings and the distribution of opioids.

In the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Texas, nine defendants were charged in schemes involving over $42 million in fraudulent billing, including a scheme involving false claims for compounded medications.

In the District of Utah, a nurse practitioner was charged in connection with fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance, tampering with a consumer product, and infecting over seven individuals with Hepatitis C.

In the Eastern District of Virginia, a defendant was charged in connection with a scheme involving identify theft and fraudulent billings to the Medicaid program.

In addition, in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Washington, 96 defendants have been charged in criminal and civil actions with defrauding the Medicaid program out of over $31 million. These cases were investigated by each state’s respective Medicaid Fraud Control Units. In addition, the Medicaid Fraud Control Units of the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Utah participated in the investigation of many of the federal cases discussed above.

The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by U.S. Attorney’s Offices nationwide, along with Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of Texas, Central District of California, Eastern District of Louisiana, Northern District of Texas, Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of Florida; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, Drug Enforcement Administration, DCIS and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.

A complaint, information, or indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Additional documents related to this announcement will shortly be available here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/documents-and-resources-july-13-2017.

This operation also highlights the great work being done by the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  In the past fiscal year, the Department of Justice, including the Civil Division, has collectively won or negotiated over $2.5 billion in judgements and settlements related to matters alleging health care fraud.

Seventh Company Agrees to Plead Guilty for Fixing Prices of Electrolytic Capacitors

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Nichicon Has Agreed to Pay $42 Million Criminal Fine

Nichicon Corporation will plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices for electrolytic capacitors sold to customers in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to the one-count felony charge filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Nichicon conspired with others to suppress and eliminate competition for electrolytic capacitors from as early as November 2001 until December 2011. In addition to pleading guilty, Nichicon has agreed to pay a $42 million criminal fine and cooperate with the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation. The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

“Including today’s charge, the Antitrust Division has now charged seven companies and ten individuals for participating in a long-running conspiracy to fix the price of a critical component in electronic devices used by millions of American consumers,” said Director of Criminal Enforcement Marvin Price of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “But our investigation is not over. We are continuing to pursue the companies and executives who conspired to undermine competition in this vital industry.”

Electrolytic capacitors store and regulate electrical current in a variety of electronic products, including computers, televisions, car engines and airbag systems, home appliances and office equipment.

Today’s charge results from ongoing federal antitrust investigations being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the capacitor industry. Anyone with information related to the focus of this investigation 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.

Former Packaged Seafood Executive Pleads Guilty to Price Fixing

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A former senior vice president of sales for a packaged seafood company pleaded guilty for his role in a conspiracy to fix the price of packaged seafood, such as canned tuna, sold in the United States, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to documents filed in this case, Stephen Hodge and his co-conspirators agreed to fix the prices of packaged seafood from as early as 2011 through 2013. He pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information filed on May 30, 2017, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. Hodge has agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate with the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation. He will be sentenced by the court at a later date.

“With today’s plea, the Antitrust Division continues to send a strong signal that senior executives will be held accountable for their actions,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to investigate price fixing among packaged seafood companies and the executives who worked at those companies.”

“The FBI will not tolerate the reprehensible behavior of company executives who abuse the trust of the American public for personal gain,” said FBI San Francisco Division Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. “We, along with our Justice Department partners, are dedicated to our ongoing investigations into price fixing and will bring these companies to justice.”

According to court documents, Hodge and his co-conspirators discussed the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States and agreed to fix the prices of those products. Hodge and his co-conspirators negotiated prices and issued price announcements for packaged seafood in accordance with the agreements they reached. Including Hodge, three executives have pleaded guilty for their participation in this conspiracy. Bumble Bee Foods LLC has also been charged for its role in the price-fixing conspiracy. Bumble Bee Foods has a court appearance scheduled for August 2, 2017.

Today’s plea is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into the packaged seafood industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office.

Genesis Healthcare Pays $53.6 Million to Settle False Claims Act Suit for Rehabilitation and Hospice Services

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Justice Department announced today that Genesis Healthcare Inc. (Genesis) will pay the federal government $53,639,288.04, including interest, to settle six federal lawsuits and investigations alleging that companies and facilities acquired by Genesis violated the False Claims Act by causing the submission of false claims to government health care programs for medically unnecessary therapy and hospice services, and grossly substandard nursing care. Genesis, headquartered in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, owns and operates through its subsidiaries skilled nursing facilities, assisted/senior living facilities, and a rehabilitation therapy business.

“We will continue to hold health care providers accountable if they bill for unnecessary or substandard services or treatment,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Today’s settlement demonstrates our unwavering commitment to protect federal health care programs against unscrupulous providers.”

This settlement resolves four sets of allegations. First, the settlement resolves allegations that from April 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013, Skilled Healthcare Group Inc. (SKG) and its subsidiaries, Skilled Healthcare LLC (Skilled LLC) and Creekside Hospice II LLC, knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims to Medicare for services performed at the Creekside Hospice facility in Las Vegas, Nevada by: (1) billing for hospice services for patients who were not terminally ill and so were not eligible for the Medicare hospice benefit and (2) billing inappropriately for certain physician evaluation management services.

Second, this settlement resolves allegations that from Jan. 1, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2013, SKG and its subsidiaries, Skilled LLC and Hallmark Rehabilitation GP LLC, knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims to Medicare, TRICARE, and Medicaid at certain facilities by providing therapy to certain patients longer than medically necessary, and/or billing for more therapy minutes than the patients actually received. The settlement also resolves allegations that those companies fraudulently assigned patients a higher Resource Utilization Group (RUG) level than necessary. Medicare reimburses skilled nursing facilities based on a patient’s RUG level, which is supposed to be determined by the amount of skilled therapy required by the patient.

Third, this settlement resolves allegations that from Jan. 1, 2008, through Sept. 27, 2013, Sun Healthcare Group Inc., SunDance Rehabilitation Agency Inc., and SunDance Rehabilitation Corp. knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false claims to Medicare Part B by billing for outpatient therapy services provided in the State of Georgia that were (1) not medically necessary or (2) unskilled in nature.

Finally, this settlement resolves allegations that between Sept. 1, 2003 and Jan. 3, 2010, Skilled LLC submitted false claims to the Medicare and Medi-Cal programs at certain of its nursing homes for services that were grossly substandard and/or worthless and therefore ineligible for payment. More specifically, the settlement resolves allegations that Skilled LLC violated certain essential requirements that nursing homes are required to meet to participate in and receive reimbursements from government healthcare programs and failed to provide sufficient nurse staffing to meet residents’ needs.

SKG and its subsidiaries were acquired by Genesis after the conduct at issue in this settlement. Sun Healthcare Group Inc., SunDance Rehabilitation Agency Inc. and SunDance Rehabilitation Corp. were acquired by Genesis in December 2012.

“Safeguarding federal health care programs and patients is a priority,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre for the District of Nevada. “Today’s settlement is an example of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s commitment to holding medical providers accountable for fraudulent billing of medically unnecessary treatments and services. We are committed to protecting federal health care programs, including Medicare, TRICARE, and Medicaid, which are funded by taxpayer dollars.”

“We are committed to protecting the federal health care programs and the patients who are enrolled in them,” said U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch for the Northern District of California. “We will continue to vigorously pursue companies and individuals who provide care that is grossly deficient or unnecessary.”

“Health care providers that falsify claims for unauthorized or unnecessary services steal precious taxpayer dollars, and we will aggressively seek to recover those funds for the program that needs them,” said U. S. Attorney John Horn for the Northern District of Georgia.

“It’s disturbing when health care companies bill Medicare and Medicaid to care for vulnerable patients, but provide grossly substandard care and medically unnecessary services just to boost company profits,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven J. Ryan of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to crack down on medical providers who betray the public’s trust and the needs of vulnerable patients through fraudulent billing and irresponsible practices.”

“At a time when the cost of healthcare weighs heavy on many taxpayers, it is imperative that people who illegally bill our healthcare system are held accountable and forced to pay restitution,” said FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge David J. LeValley. “This case is an example of how committed the FBI and its partners are to keeping healthcare providers from abusing the system.”

The settlement, which was based on the company’s ability to pay, resolves allegations originally brought in lawsuits filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by Joanne Cretney-Tsosie, Jennifer Deaton, Kimberley Green, Camaren Hampton, Teresa McAree, Terri West, and Brian Wilson, former employees of companies acquired by Genesis. 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 government may intervene and file its own complaint in such a lawsuit. The whistleblowers will receive a combined $9.67 million as their share of the recovery in this case.

This matter was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch; the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Northern District of California, the Northern District of Georgia, the Western District of Missouri, and the District of Nevada and HHS-OIG.

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

The cases are docketed as United States, ex rel. Cretney-Tsosie v. Creekside Hospice II, LLC, Case No. 2:13-cv-167-HDM (D. Nev.); United States ex rel. McAree v. SunDance Rehabilitation Corp., Case No. 1:12-CV-4244 (N.D. Ga.); United States, ex rel. West v. Skilled Healthcare Group Inc., et. al., Case No. 11-02658-ED (N.D. Cal.); United States ex rel. Deaton v. Skilled Healthcare Group, Inc. et al., Case No. 4:14-cv-00219 (W.D. Mo.); and United States ex rel. Wilson v. Skilled Healthcare Group, Inc. et al., Case No. 14-cv-860 (W.D. Mo.).

Northern California Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Northern California real estate investor pleaded guilty yesterday for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

California real estate investor Ramin Rad “Ray” Yeganeh pleaded guilty to one count of bid rigging in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland.  He was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California on June 25, 2015.

According to court documents, as early as September 2008 and continuing until in or about January 2011, Yeganeh conspired with others not to bid against one another, instead designating a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County.  The selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in second, private auctions.  The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

The Department determined that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and eliminate competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Alameda County public foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive prices. When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.

The guilty plea entered yesterday was the result of the Department’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, California. To date, 60 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty.

These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to real-estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at (415) 934-5300 or call the FBI tip line at (415) 553-7400.

FTC Charges Qualcomm With Monopolizing Key Semiconductor Device Used in Cell Phones

 

Company’s sales and licensing practices hamper Qualcomm’s competitors and threaten innovation in mobile communications, according to FTC

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint in federal district court charging Qualcomm Inc. with using anticompetitive tactics to maintain its monopoly in the supply of a key semiconductor device used in cell phones and other consumer products.

Qualcomm is the world’s dominant supplier of baseband processors – devices that manage cellular communications in mobile products. The FTC alleges that Qualcomm has used its dominant position as a supplier of certain baseband processors to impose onerous and anticompetitive supply and licensing terms on cell phone manufacturers and to weaken competitors.

Qualcomm also holds patents that it has declared essential to industry standards that enable cellular connectivity. These standards were adopted by standard-setting organizations for the telecommunications industry, which include Qualcomm and many of its competitors. In exchange for having their patented technologies included in the standards, participants typically commit to license their patents on what are known as fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory, or “FRAND,” terms.

When a patent holder that has made a FRAND commitment negotiates a license, ordinarily it is constrained by the fact that if the parties are unable to reach agreement, the patent holder may have to establish reasonable royalties in court.

According to the complaint, by threatening to disrupt cell phone manufacturers’ supply of baseband processors, Qualcomm obtains elevated royalties and other license terms for its standard-essential patents that manufacturers would otherwise reject. These royalties amount to a tax on the manufacturers’ use of baseband processors manufactured by Qualcomm’s competitors, a tax that excludes these competitors and harms competition. Increased costs imposed by this tax are passed on to consumers, the complaint alleges.

By excluding competitors, Qualcomm impedes innovation that would offer significant consumer benefits, including those that foster the increased interconnectivity of consumer products, vehicles, buildings, and other items commonly referred to as the Internet of Things.

The FTC has charged Qualcomm with violating the FTC Act. The complaint alleges that Qualcomm:

  • Maintains a “no license, no chips” policy under which it will supply its baseband processors only on the condition that cell phone manufacturers agree to Qualcomm’s preferred license terms. The FTC alleges that this tactic forces cell phone manufacturers to pay elevated royalties to Qualcomm on products that use a competitor’s baseband processors. According to the Commission’s complaint, this is an anticompetitive tax on the use of rivals’ processors. “No license, no chips” is a condition that other suppliers of semiconductor devices do not impose. The risk of losing access to Qualcomm baseband processors is too great for a cell phone manufacturer to bear because it would preclude the manufacturer from selling phones for use on important cellular networks.
  • Refuses to license standard-essential patents to competitors. Despite its commitment to license standard-essential patents on FRAND terms, Qualcomm has consistently refused to license those patents to competing suppliers of baseband processors.
  • Extracted exclusivity from Apple in exchange for reduced patent royalties. Qualcomm precluded Apple from sourcing baseband processors from Qualcomm’s competitors from 2011 to 2016. Qualcomm recognized that any competitor that won Apple’s business would become stronger, and used exclusivity to prevent Apple from working with and improving the effectiveness of Qualcomm’s competitors.

The FTC is seeking a court order to undo and prevent Qualcomm’s unfair methods of competition in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC has asked the court to order Qualcomm to cease its anticompetitive conduct and take actions to restore competitive conditions.

The Commission vote to file the complaint was 2-1. Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen dissented and issued a statement. Both a public and sealed version of the complaint were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on January 17, 2017.

 

SEC Charges Shell Factory Operators With Fraud

The Microcap Fraud Task Force Activities have clearly been gaining momentum…

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against a California stock promoter and a New Jersey lawyer who allegedly were creating sham companies and selling them until the SEC stopped them in their tracks.

The SEC alleges that Imran Husain and Gregg Evan Jaclin essentially operated a shell factory enterprise by filing registration statements to form various startup companies and misleading potential investors to believe each company would be operating and profitable.  The agency further alleges that their secret objective all along was merely to make money for themselves by selling the companies as empty shells rather than actually implementing business plans and following through on their representations to investors.

Moving quickly to protect investors based on evidence collected even before its investigation was complete, the SEC issued stop orders and suspended the registration statements of the last two created companies – Counseling International and Comp Services – before investors could be harmed and the companies could be sold.

“Issuers of securities offerings must make truthful disclosures about the company and its business operations so investors know what they’re getting into when they buy the stock,” said Michele Wein Layne, Director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office.  “We allege that Husain drummed up false business plans and created a mirage of initial shareholders while Jaclin developed false paperwork to depict emerging companies that later sold as just empty shells.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles:

  • Husain and Jaclin created nine shell companies and sold seven using essentially the same pattern.
  • Husain created a business plan for each company that would not be implemented beyond a few initial steps, and then convinced a friend, relative, or acquaintance to become a puppet CEO who approved and signed corporate documents at Husain’s direction.
  • Jaclin supplied bogus legal documents that Husain used to conduct sham private sales of a company’s shares of stock to “straw shareholders” who were recruited and given cash to pay for the stock they purchased plus a commission.  Some of the recorded shareholders were not even real people.
  • Husain and Jaclin filed registration statements for initial public offerings and falsely claimed that a particular business plan would be implemented.  Deliberately omitted from the registration statements were any mention of Husain starting and controlling the company.
  • Husain and Jaclin filed misleading quarterly and annual reports once a company became registered publicly, providing much of the same false information depicted in the registration statements.
  • Husain obtained about $2.25 million in total proceeds when the empty shell companies were sold, and Jaclin and his firm received nearly $225,000 for their legal services.

The SEC’s complaint charges Husain and Jaclin with violating or aiding and abetting violations of the antifraud, reporting, and securities registration provisions of the federal securities laws.  The SEC seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties, permanent injunctions, and penny stock bars.  The SEC also seeks an officer-and-director bar against Husain.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Roberto A. Tercero and Spencer E. Bendell as part of the Microcap Fraud Task Force.  The litigation will be led by Amy J. Longo and supervised by John Berry.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.

Former Silk Road Task Force Agent Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering and Obstruction

Ex-Secret Service Agent Used Status to Pocket $820,000 Worth of Bitcoin 

A former U.S. Secret Service special agent pleaded guilty today to money laundering and obstruction of justice in connection with his theft of digital currency during the federal investigation of Silk Road, an online marketplace used to facilitate the purchase and sale of illegal drugs and other contraband.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California, Chief Richard Weber of the IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Division, Special Agent in Charge Michael P. Tompkins of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General’s Washington, D.C. Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Lori Hazenstab of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General in Washington D.C. made the announcement.

Shaun W. Bridges, 32, of Laurel, Maryland, had been a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service for approximately six years in the Baltimore Field Office and was assigned to the Electronic Crimes Task Force.  He pleaded guilty before the U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7, 2015.

“There is a bright line between enforcing the law and breaking it,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “Law enforcement officers who cross that line not only harm their immediate victims but also betray the public trust.  This case shows we will act quickly to hold wrongdoers accountable, no matter who they are.”

“Mr. Bridges has now admitted that he brazenly stole $820,000 worth of digital currency while working as a U.S. Secret Service special agent, a move that completely violated the public’s trust,” said U.S. Attorney Haag.  “We depend on those in federal law enforcement having the highest integrity and unshakeable honor, and Mr. Bridges has demonstrated that he utterly lacks those qualities.  We appreciate the hard work of our federal partners that went into bringing Mr. Bridges to justice.”

“Through a series of complex transactions, the defendant stole bitcoins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Chief Weber.  “This case is an excellent example of the financial expertise of our special agents. Through the analysis of both the block chain and data from the Silk Road servers, we were able to trace the flow of funds, which eventually led to the defendant.”

Between 2012 and 2014, Bridges was assigned to the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force, a multi-agency group investigating illegal activity on Silk Road.  Bridges’ responsibilities included, among other things, conducting forensic computer investigations in an effort to locate, identify and prosecute targets, including Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, who ran Silk Road.

According to his plea agreement, Bridges admitted that in January 2013 he used an administrator account on the Silk Road website that belonged to another individual to fraudulently obtain access to that website, reset passwords of various accounts and to move bitcoin from those accounts into a bitcoin “wallet” that Bridges controlled.  Bridges admitted that he moved and stole approximately 20,000 bitcoin, which at that time was worth approximately $350,000.

Bridges admitted that he moved the stolen bitcoin into an account at Mt. Gox, an online digital currency exchange based in Japan.  According to his admissions, he liquidated the bitcoin into $820,000 of U.S. currency between March and May 2013, and had the funds transferred to personal investment accounts in the United States.

Bridges’ plea agreement also established that he obstructed the Baltimore federal grand jury’s investigations of Silk Road and Ulbricht in a number of ways, including by impeding the ability of the investigation to fully utilize a cooperator’s access to Silk Road.  In addition, Bridges admitted that he made multiple false and misleading statements to investigators in connection with the San Francisco federal grand jury’s investigation into his own illegal acts, and that he encouraged another government employee to lie to investigators.

Bridges is one of two federal agents to plead guilty in connection with illegal activity during the investigation of Silk Road.  Carl M. Force, 46, of Baltimore, was a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration and was also assigned to the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force.  On July 1, 2015, Force pleaded guilty to a three-count information charging him with money laundering related to his theft of over $700,000 in digital currency while acting as an undercover agent on the Task Force.  Force is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Seeborg on Oct. 19, 2015.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s San Francisco Division, the IRS-CI’s San Francisco Division, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathryn Haun and William Frentzen of the Northern District of California and Trial Attorney Richard B. Evans of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Arvon Perteet.

Former Executive Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Bribe Panamanian Officials

A former regional director of SAP International Inc. pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by participating in a scheme to bribe Panamanian officials to secure the award of government technology contracts for SAP.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Division and Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas McMahon of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

Vicente Eduardo Garcia, 65, of Miami, pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.  Sentencing before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California is scheduled for Dec. 16, 2015.

According to plea documents, in late 2009, SAP sought a multi-million dollar contract to provide a Panamanian state agency with a technology upgrade package.  In connection with his guilty plea, Garcia admitted that, to secure the contract, he conspired with others, including advisors and consultants to SAP, to pay bribes to two Panamanian government officials, as well as to the agent of a third government official (with the understanding that at least a portion of the money would be transmitted to the third official).  According to Garcia’s admissions, the conspirators used sham contracts and false invoices to disguise the true nature of the bribes.  Garcia further admitted that he believed paying such bribes was necessary to secure both the initial contract and additional Panamanian government contracts.

Ultimately, SAP’s Panamanian channel partner secured the technology upgrade contract for $14.5 million, which included $2.1 million in SAP software licenses.  Soon thereafter, the Panamanian government awarded SAP’s channel partner additional contracts that included the provision of SAP products.

The investigation is being conducted by FBI and the IRS-CI.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement, which separately announced civil charges against Garcia, provided assistance.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Aisling O’Shea of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam A. Reeves of the Northern District of California.

Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.