Western New York Contractors and Two Owners to Pay More Than $3 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Alden, New York-based contractors, Zoladz Construction Company Inc. (ZCCI), Arsenal Contracting LLC (Arsenal), and Alliance Contracting LLC (Alliance), along with two owners, John Zoladz of Darien, New York, and David Lyons of Grand Island, New York, have agreed to pay the United States more than $3 million to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by improperly obtaining federal set-aside contracts designated for service-disabled veteran-owned (SDVO) small businesses, the Justice Department announced today.    

“Contracts are set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses so to afford veterans with service-connected disabilities the opportunity to participate in federal contracting and gain valuable experience to help them compete for future economic opportunities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Every time an ineligible contractor knowingly pursues and obtains such set-aside contracts, they are cheating American taxpayers at the expense of service-disabled veterans.”

To qualify as a SDVO small business, a service-disabled veteran must own and control the company.  The United States alleged that Zoladz recruited a service-disabled veteran to serve as a figurehead for Arsenal, which purported to be a legitimate SDVO small business but which was, in fact, managed and controlled by Zoladz and Lyons, neither of whom is a service-disabled veteran.  The United States alleged that Arsenal was a sham company that had scant employees of its own and instead relied on Alliance and ZCCI employees to function.  After receiving numerous SDVO small business contracts, Arsenal is alleged to have subcontracted nearly all of the work under the contracts to Alliance, which was owned by Zoladz and Lyons, and ZCCI, which was owned by Zoladz.  Neither Alliance nor ZCCI were eligible to participate in SDVO small business contracting programs.  Zoladz and Lyons are alleged to have carried out their scheme by, among other things, making or causing false statements to be made to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) regarding Arsenal’s eligibility to participate in the SDVO small business contracting program and the company’s compliance with SDVO small business requirements.

“Detecting and discontinuing fraud, waste, and abuse committed by those who do business with the government remains a core function performed in this Office,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. for the Western District of New York. “That function, however, takes on additional significance when the target of the fraud is a program designed for the benefit of the heroes among us—our disabled veterans.  Although this investigation did not uncover sufficient evidence to establish criminal liability by these entities and individuals, the multi-million dollar civil judgment ensures that those involved pay a heavy price for their decision to divert to themselves resources intended for the benefit of those who have made supreme sacrifices on behalf of all.”

“This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice, and other law enforcement agencies to aggressively pursue individuals and companies that misrepresent themselves as service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and deny legitimate disabled veterans the opportunity to obtain VA set-aside contracts,” said Inspector General, Michael J. Missal of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General (OIG).  “The VA OIG will continue to work diligently to protect the integrity of this important program, which is designed to aid disabled veterans.  I also want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners in this effort.”

“The contracting companies and principals allowed greed to corrupt a federal process intended to benefit service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses,” said Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen of FBI Buffalo Field Office. “The FBI and our partners will continue to identify and investigate companies and individuals who target these types of programs for personal gain.”

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The civil lawsuit was filed in the Western District of New York and is captioned United States ex rel. Western New York Foundation for Fair Contracting, Inc. v. Arsenal Contracting, LLC, et al., Case No. 11-CV-0821(S) (W.D.N.Y.).  As part of today’s resolution, the whistleblower will receive $450,000.

“This case is yet another example of the tremendous results achieved through the joint efforts of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Justice, and partner agencies to uncover and forcefully respond to fraud in Federal Government contracting programs, such as the Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Program in this case,” said Christopher M. Pilkerton, General Counsel of the SBA.  “Identifying and aggressively pursuing instances of civil fraud by participants in these procurement programs is one of SBA’s top priorities.”

“Providing false statements to gain access to federal contracts set aside for service-disabled veterans denies the government opportunities to meet its abiding commitment to our nation’s veterans,” said Acting SBA Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware.  “The SBA’s Office of the Inspector General is committed to bringing those that lie to gain access to SBA’s preferential contracting programs to justice.  I want to thank the Department of Justice for its leadership and dedication to serving justice.”

“There is an obvious need and reason for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses in the government contracting process,” said Director Frank Robey of the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), Major Procurement Fraud Unit.  “Special Agents from Army CID will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to make every contribution possible to bring persons to justice who violate that process.”

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, the FBI, the VA’s Office of Inspector General, the SBA’s Office of Inspector General, and Army CID.

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

CCC’s: It Is Time for an Antitrust Whistleblower Statute–Part 3

 by  Leave a Comment

This is Part Three of a four-part series of posts by myself and colleague Kimberly Justice on “It Is Time for an Antitrust Whistleblower Statute.”  Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

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

Note:   If the Grassley/Leahy Anti-Retaliation Act is passed, that protection would be part of the whistleblower statute. Ms. Justice and I are advocating that an antitrust whistleblower statute should go farther and provide a reward for actionable cartel-busting information.

The SEC whistleblower statute is a very successful model to be followed for a potential antitrust whistleblower statute. There should be differences in some areas (discussed below), but the SEC program has shown to be an effective tool in preserving the integrity of the nations’ securities market while conserving the investigative resources of the SEC.  But, it took a severe financial crisis to overcome the objections to an SEC whistleblower statute.  Many of the stakeholders, such as the Chamber of Commerce that opposed allowing a whistleblower award as part of the Dodd-Frank Act are likely to oppose an antitrust whistleblower statute.  But in November 2016, then SEC chair Mary Jo White said: “The whistleblower program has had a transformative impact on enforcement and that impact will only increase in the coming years.”

The success of the SEC whistleblower statute, at least from an enforcement perspective, is one reason why we think the time has come for a similar antitrust whistleblower statute.  It works.  The SEC, which pays the whistleblower 10-30% of the sanctions collected in successful actions, has rewarded 46 whistleblowers with approximately $158 million for information that has led to successful enforcement actions.

The SEC statute, like the antitrust statute we propose, is different than a typical False Claims Act-type whistleblower claim where the relator (whistleblower) brings an action in the name of the United States alleging the government has been the victim of fraud.  The SEC statute basically provides an informant with a reward (bounty) for coming forward with actionable information where the SEC obtains monetary sanctions.  The SEC, however, is precluded from making monetary awards “to any whistleblower who is convicted of a criminal violation related to the judicial or administrative action for which the whistleblower otherwise could receive an award.”

While the SEC statute provides a model, there are areas where adjustments for the nature of cartel violations may be made in an antitrust whistleblower statute.  The full SEC legislation can be found here, but below are a couple of key provisions and our suggestions about how they might be modified.

Payment of Award

The SEC whistleblower program allows for a reward, “In any covered judicial or administrative action, or related action.” 

The Antitrust Division does not have administrative actions.  An antitrust whistleblower would be eligible for an award, in our view, only based on original information that led to criminal Sherman Act convictions and the imposition of fines based on a conviction.

 Amount of Award

The SEC provides for a whistleblower award only where the penalties exceed $1 million.  In such cases the reward is an aggregate amount [if more than one whistleblower] equal to—

‘‘(A) not less than 10 percent, in total, of what has been collected of the monetary sanctions imposed in the action or related actions; and

‘‘(B) not more than 30 percent, in total, of what has been collected of the monetary sanctions imposed in the action or related actions.

In our view, this may not be an appropriate award schedule for an antitrust whistleblower.  At a minimum, the $1 million threshold should be eliminated. A whistleblower statute may be particularly effective in construction-type contracts where the loss to the victim is acute.  For example, a rigged electrical contract at a local hospital that would have been $750,000 with competitive bidding but has a low fixed bid of $1 million is as worthy of a whistleblower award as an international cartel where each consumer suffers a relatively small loss, but cumulatively the loss will easily exceed $1 million.

Also, the 10 to 30 percent award range may be excessive in a large cartel case.  The impetus behind our proposed legislation is not so much to make a whistleblower a mega-lottery winner, but to provide a way to help the whistleblower pay for what could be substantial attorney fees, and to compensate the whistleblower for what may be a long period of unemployment or underemployment, regardless of anti-retaliation protection. Therefore, we would eliminate the minimum award of 10%, leave the maximum of 30% and perhaps require that in making the award the Antitrust Division consider a) the attorney fees incurred; and b) the likely or actual loss of income over a period of time, as well as the value of the information provided, the level of cooperation and the amount of the recovery.

No Recovery for One Convicted of the Violation

No SEC whistleblower award can be made to ‘‘to any whistleblower who is convicted of a criminal violation related to the judicial or administrative action for which the whistleblower otherwise could receive an award under this section.”

             An antitrust whistleblower statute should certainly retain this provision.  It is our sense that the most likely potential antitrust whistleblowers will be lower-level employees who know about a conspiracy and take some action in furtherance of it—thus creating criminal liability for themselves.  This will give the Antitrust Division much control over who can become a whistleblower.  The Division retains the discretion whether to give non-prosecution protection, a necessary first step before an insider can become a whistleblower.  If the potential whistleblower has a level of culpability such that the Antitrust Division is not comfortable accepting as a whistleblower, the simple answer is to not grant non-prosecution protection.  Another possible scenario is that the Antitrust Division grant non-prosecution protection to a highly culpable individual (making them eligible for an award because no conviction) but write into the cooperation agreement that the cooperator waive the right to a potential “bounty.”

There may be, and hopefully will be, some whistleblowers who do not need non-prosecution protection (customers, administrative staff or others who learn of a cartel but have no role in it).  But, in practice, the Antitrust Division would have significant control over the whistleblower program because it is likely that many potential whistleblowers would have to take as a first step, negotiating non-prosecution agreements.

 Office of the Whistleblower

            A key aspect behind the success of the SEC whistleblower provision is that the SEC actively promotes the program.  The SEC established an Office of the Whistleblower.  This is an excerpt from the office’s home page:

Assistance and information from a whistleblower who knows of possible securities law violations can be among the most powerful weapons in the law enforcement arsenal of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Through their knowledge of the circumstances and individuals involved, whistleblowers can help the Commission identify possible fraud and other violations much earlier than might otherwise have been possible.

The level to which the Antitrust Division promotes a new whistleblower statute will determine its level of success.  When the Division first began the revised leniency program, it rolled it out like a new iPhone.  The Division went to great lengths to advertise the program and make the program successful in practice by working with companies to help them qualify if at all possible.  The flexibility and discretion built in to an SEC style whistleblower statute will give the Antitrust Division the ability to accentuate the features the whistleblower provisions that work best for law enforcement while mitigating any possible downside (such as very culpable people getting awards).

Miscellaneous

We’ve only touched on the most significant feature of the SEC whistleblower program that may be mimicked in an antitrust whistleblower statute.  There would be more “sausage making” into creating actual legislation.  Other features of the SEC program worth noting are the reporting requirements to Congress and the Inspector General review and report on the program.  If an antitrust whistleblower statute is nearly as effective as the SEC statute, law enforcement and consumers will be the winners.  But, if an antitrust whistleblower statute is a bad idea, it can be a short-lived bad idea.  In light of the success of the SEC program, it is prudent to give it a chance.

Thanks for reading

Robert.connolly@geyergorey.com

Kimberly A. Justice, kjustice@ktmc.com

CCC’s: It Is Time For An Antitrust Whistleblower Statute–Part 2

Objections to an Antitrust Whistleblower Statute

The idea of an antitrust whistleblower is not new, but it has never gained much traction in the past.  There have been significant objections, or at least disinterest—particularly from the Department of Justice.  The mood seemed to be “Our cup runneth over with Amnesty applications so let’s not screw this thing up.”  But, perhaps times have changed.  Our analysis is that the objections to a whistleblower statute were either superficial, or when having merit, still not enough to outweigh the benefits of a whistleblower statute.

Before considering some of the possible downside to an antitrust whistleblower statute, a little explanation of what we have in mind may be helpful.  We propose an SEC-style whistleblower statue where an informant can be awarded a level of compensation (bounty) when information of illegality leads to charges and recovery by the SEC. This is different than a False Claims Act qui tam case where a Relator brings a case in the name of the government alleging the government has been defrauded.  In fact, an antitrust whistleblower statute is needed because a qui tam case is not generally available in price-fixing matters since it is the private sector, not the government that has been harmed.

Concerns About an Antitrust Whistleblower statute

 It’s worth noting that the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act has been passed twice unanimously by the Senate in the last two Congresses and is up for vote again on the Senate floor.  It will no doubt pass—most likely again unanimously.  There is agreement that a person who reports criminal antitrust activity should not face retaliation in the workplace. (Despite the consensus, the House has failed to take up this bill the last two times it has passed the Senate).  There is controversy, however, about whether a whistleblower should be eligible for some type of bounty if the information leads to successful cartel prosecution and the imposition of fines.

In 2011, the General Accounting Office Published a report on Criminal Cartel Enforcement that reported stakeholders’ views on a possible antitrust whistleblower statute (here).  This is a summary of the GAO findings:

There was no consensus among key stakeholders GAO interviewed–antitrust plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys, among others–regarding the addition of a whistleblower reward, but they widely supported adding antiretaliatory protection. Nine of 21 key stakeholders stated that adding a whistleblower reward in the form of a bounty could result in greater cartel detection and deterrence, but 11 of 21 noted that such rewards could hinder DOJ’s enforcement program. Currently, whistleblowers who report criminal antitrust violations lack a civil remedy if they experience retaliation, such as being fired, so they may be hesitant to report criminal wrongdoing, and past reported cases suggest retaliation occurs in this type of situation. All 16 key stakeholders who had a position on the issue generally supported the addition of a civil whistleblower protection though senior DOJ Antitrust Division officials stated that they neither support nor oppose the idea.

The GAO report is several years old and it may be that positions have been reevaluated.  For example, I think the Antitrust Division today would support the anti-retaliation measures in whistleblower statute.  But below is an analysis of some of the objections raised to making a bounty available to an antitrust whistleblower.

Whistleblower Credibility

 The Antitrust Division’s principal concern was that jurors may not believe a witness who stands to benefit financially from successful enforcement action against those he implicated.  GAO Report p. 39.  But, a whistleblower is highly unlikely to ever be a principle witness at a trial.  An antitrust crime typically involves many culpable actors.  A whistleblower would generally “get the ball rolling” and provide evidence that will turn other witnesses, and allow subpoenas and search warrants from target companies.  Further, a single whistleblower who might receive a financial reward seems no less credible than witnesses from an amnesty company where everyone—including the highest-ranking culpable executives—will have escaped criminal prosecution.  Also, criminal antitrust trials are relatively rare—almost all cases are resolved by pleas.  Finally, it is not logical to worry about the credibility of a witness you would otherwise not even know about absent a whistleblower statute.

A Whistleblower Reward Could Result in Claims That Do Not Lead to Criminal Prosecution: 

 There was some fear expressed in the GAO report that would-be whistleblowers would fabricate information in order to conjure up a cartel in the hopes of collecting a reward.  GAO Report p. 40.  Anything is possible, but the Antitrust Division folks are pretty savvy and have standards for opening grand jury investigations.  Moreover, the possibility of fabricated charges exists today with a company applying for leniency in the hopes of knee-capping competitors who would have to deal with a criminal cartel investigation.  The reality is a “false accusation” simply wouldn’t be corroborated by anyone else and could land the accuser in jail for making a false statement.

In a similar vane, concern was expressed that a whistleblower statute may result in a deluge of complaints to the Antitrust Division that would take additional resources to sift through.  This seems like a good problem to have.  When Ms. Justice and I were at the Division, we received a fair number of complaints that amounted to no more than oligopoly pricing.  It did not take too much time to ask: “What else ya got?”

* * * * * Click Here for the Rest of the Story * * * * *

CCC’s: Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2017 Voted Out of Committee

 by  Leave a Comment

The Grassley/Leahy Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2017 was unanimously voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning and will now go to the Senate floor.  The bill has passed the full Senate unanimously twice before, but has never been taken up in the House.

The bill is an important first step in creating protection for individuals who report criminal antitrust activity.  I have advocated for a stronger whistleblower statute (here) (here) that would provide a possible financial incentive for a whistleblower to help defray what could be the substantial legal bills that may accompany involvement in an antitrust investigation, as well as provide possible reward for actionable information.  But, certainly an anti-retaliation provision should be part of any whistleblower statute.  This legislation will be a good start if the House can be persuaded to join the Senate and pass the bill.

Below is the text of the statute

Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2017

This bill amends the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 to prohibit an employer from discharging, demoting, suspending, harassing, or in any other manner discriminating against an employee, contractor, subcontractor, or agent of such employer (covered individual) who: (1) provided information to the federal government or a person with supervisory authority over the covered individual (or such other person working for the employer who has the authority to investigate, discover, or terminate misconduct) concerning a violation of antitrust law or of another criminal law committed in conjunction with a potential violation of antitrust law or in conjunction with an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice; or (2) filed, testified, participated, or otherwise assisted in an investigation relating to such a violation. This protection does not extend to any covered individual who planned and initiated such a violation or an obstruction to its investigation.

A violation with respect to the antitrust laws shall not be construed to include a civil violation of any law that is not also a criminal violation.

A covered individual who alleges discharge or other discrimination by an employer in violation of such prohibition is authorized to seek relief: (1) by filing a complaint with the Department of Labor; or (2) if Labor has not issued a final decision within 180 days of such filing, by bringing an action at law or equity in the appropriate U.S. district court. A covered individual who prevails in any such action is entitled to all relief necessary to make such individual whole, including reinstatement with the same status, back pay plus interest, and compensation for special damages sustained

Thanks for reading.  robert.connolly@geyergorey.com

New York Hospital Operator Agrees to Pay $4 Million to Settle Alleged False Claims Act Violations Arising from Improper Payments to Physicians

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

MediSys Health Network Inc., which owns and operates Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and Flushing Hospital and Medical Center, two hospitals in Queens, New York, has agreed to pay $4 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by engaging in improper financial relationships with referring physicians, the Justice Department announced today.

The settlement resolves allegations that the defendants submitted false claims to the Medicare program for services rendered to patients referred by physicians with whom the defendants had improper financial relationships. These relationships took the form of compensation and office lease arrangements that did not comply with the requirements of the Stark Law, which restricts the financial relationships that hospitals may have with doctors who refer patients to them.

“This recovery should help to deter other health care providers from entering into improper financial relationships with physicians that can taint the physicians’ medical judgment, to the detriment of patients and taxpayers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Satish Deshpande under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the Act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. Dr. Deshpande will receive $600,000 as his share of the recovery.

“Health care providers who enter into improper financial relations with referring physicians compromise the referral process and encourage over-utilization of services, to the potential detriment of both patients and taxpayers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde for the Eastern District of New York. “We will hold health care providers accountable for their violations of federal law.”

“When hospital operators provide financial incentives to doctors for patient referrals, individuals rightfully wonder whose best interests are being served,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to investigate such entities who fraudulently bill government health programs.”

The case, United States ex rel. Deshpande, et al. v. The Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, et al., Case No. 13-cv-4030 (E.D.N.Y.), was handled by Senior Trial Counsel David T. Cohen of the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth M. Abell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and Associate Counsel David Fuchs from HHS-OIG. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

CCC’s: It’s Time For an Antitrust Whistleblower Statute

 by  Leave a Comment

Kimberly Justice and I have written an article arguing that it is time for an “Antitrust Whistleblower Statute.”  The article was published in Global Competition Review, but is behind a paid firewall (here).  Kimberly and I will be expanding on this idea in Cartel Capers blog posts over the next two weeks.  The first installment will be on Monday and explain why cartels are a great pond to be fishing in for informants, but a little “whistleblower” bait is needed. Other topics will include:
1)      An evaluation of the objections to an antitrust whistleblower statute;
2)      A survey of whistleblower related incentives offered by foreign competition agencies;
3)      A preview of what an antitrust whistleblower statute should look like; and
4)      If we receive comments/feedback, we’d like to collect and post them together.
Stay tuned.  Thanks for reading.

CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and CHRISTUS Health to Pay $12.24 Million to Settle Medicaid False Claims Act Allegations

Friday, September 1, 2017

CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center (St. Vincent) and its partner, CHRISTUS Health (CHRISTUS), have agreed to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by making illegal donations to county governments, which were used to fund the state share of Medicaid payments to the hospital, the Department of Justice announced today. Under the settlement agreement, St. Vincent and CHRISTUS have agreed to pay $12.24 million, plus interest. St. Vincent is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. CHRISTUS is based in Irving, Texas.

“Congress expressly intended that states and counties use their own money when seeking federal matching funds,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Using local funds provides an incentive for the counties and states to, among other things, hold down costs rather than rely on non bona-fide donations by private providers.”

New Mexico’s Sole Community Provider (SCP) program, which was discontinued in 2014, provided supplemental Medicaid funds to hospitals in mostly rural communities. The federal government reimbursed the state of New Mexico for approximately 75 percent of its health care expenditures under the SCP program. Under federal law, New Mexico’s 25 percent “matching” share of SCP program payments had to consist of state or county funds, and not impermissible “donations” from private hospitals. This restriction on the use of private hospital funds to satisfy state Medicaid obligations was enacted by Congress to curb possible abuses and ensure that states have sufficient incentive to curb rising Medicaid costs.

Between 2001 and 2009, St. Vincent and CHRISTUS allegedly made non-bona fide donations and thus caused the presentment of false claims by the state of New Mexico to the federal government under the Medicaid program.

“Protecting the integrity of the Medicaid program is crucial because millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans, depend on the program for medical care and related services,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney for the District of New Mexico. “This case illustrates our commitment to ensuring that government funds are legally obtained and used for their intended purposes. We will use all available civil remedies to recover the ill-gotten gains obtained by those who defraud government health care programs.”

The settlement resolves allegations originally brought in a lawsuit filed by a former Los Alamos County, New Mexico Indigent Healthcare Administrator under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to bring suit on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery. The whistleblower will receive $2.249 million as her share of the recovery in this case.

The case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico with assistance from the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Stepan v. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Corp. et al., Civil Action No. 11-cv-572 (D.N.M.). The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

Former Janesville Pharmacy Owner Sentenced for Health Care Fraud

Friday, September 1, 2017

Madison, Wis. – Jeffrey M. Anderson, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Mark Johnson, 55, Janesville, Wis., was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge James Peterson to 24 months in federal prison for health care fraud.  Johnson will begin serving his sentence in October.

On August 4, 2016, Johnson’s arrest was announced in conjunction with the unsealing of a 46-count indictment returned by the grand jury, charging him with health care fraud, making false statements in a health care fraud audit, and identity theft.

On May 24, 2017, Johnson entered a guilty plea to Count 1 of the indictment. Pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, all the charged conduct was considered by the court at sentencing. Johnson defrauded Medicare and Medicaid from approximately January 2008 to March 2014. During this time-period, he was a licensed pharmacist, and the owner and president of Kealey Pharmacy and Home Care, Inc., a pharmacy located in Janesville, Wisconsin. Kealey Pharmacy was a retail pharmacy providing, among other things, prescription drugs to customers. Kealey was reimbursed for these prescriptions in a number of ways, including reimbursement payments under Medicare and Medicaid.

Johnson submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid obtaining reimbursement for medication that was not, in fact, provided to beneficiaries. On occasion, also created false prescription orders using the identities of physicians and then submitted claims for reimbursement for medication pursuant to these false prescription orders. also lied in his responses to an audit being conducted by the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services of paid Medicaid claims in 2013. obtained approximately $740,000 in fraudulent prescription reimbursements during his fraud scheme.

At sentencing, Judge Peterson noted that Johnson’s criminal conduct caused a considerable financial loss to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which are designed to protect the sick and the vulnerable.

The charges against Johnson were the result of a lengthy investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Federal investigators began investigating Johnson after being alerted to the possible fraud by two employees who worked at the pharmacy.

Acting U.S. Attorney Anderson commended the outstanding work of the investigators in the case and praised the two former employees who came forward with concerns about possible fraud. Anderson said, “Johnson’s case is an example of this U.S. Attorney’s Office’s commitment to prosecuting those in the health care profession who abuse the public trust by defrauding the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith P. Duchemin.

National Dental Clinic Chain to Pay $1.3 Million to Resolve Allegations of Overbilling Medicaid

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

BOSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office announced today that Dental Dreams, LLC, a national dental chain with locations in Massachusetts, has agreed to pay $1.375 million to resolve allegations that it improperly billed the Massachusetts Medicaid program (MassHealth) for unnecessary and unjustifiable dental procedures.

“Dental Dreams enriched itself at taxpayer expense by improperly billing Medicaid,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that federal and state health care dollars are spent properly.”

“This dental chain’s extensive improper billing violated state regulations and cost our state’s Medicaid program more than a million dollars,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “As a result of this joint investigation, today’s settlement provides restitution to MassHealth and ensures that these funds are properly used to benefit its members.”

“Medicaid is designed to provide health care services to some of the most vulnerable members of our society and it’s our agency’s mission to ensure government health funds are spent properly,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip M. Coyne of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “Working with our Federal and State partners, we will continue to hold accountable any medical professional who, just to enrich themselves, bills Medicaid for more intensive and expensive services than those actually provided.”

“The company took advantage of a vulnerable patient population when it submitted claims to MassHealth for medically unnecessary and unreasonable dental procedures,” said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division. “Today’s settlement underscores the FBI’s commitment to investigate health care providers who overbill federal and private health insurance programs to maximize profits. We urge anyone with information regarding overbilling practices to contact us.”

The settlement resolves allegations that Dental Dreams overbilled the Massachusetts Medicaid program for surgical extractions of teeth and for a specific kind of oral examination.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by a former employee under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government for false claims for government funds and to receive a share of any recovery.

Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb, Massachusetts Attorney General Healey, HHS-OIG SAC Coyne and FBI SAC Shaw made the announcement today. The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Leung, Sonya Rao, and Kriss Basil of Weinreb’s Civil Division and Assistant Attorney General Stephany Collamore of Healey’s Medicaid Fraud Division.

Novo Nordisk Agrees to Pay $58 Million for Failure to Comply with FDA-Mandated Risk Program

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Payments Resolve Allegations Highlighted in DOJ Civil Complaint and Recently Unsealed Whistleblower Actions

Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Novo Nordisk Inc. will pay $58.65 million to resolve allegations that the company failed to comply with the FDA-mandated Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for its Type II diabetes medication Victoza, the Justice Department announced today. The resolution includes disgorgement of $12.15 million for alleged violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) from 2010 to 2012 and a payment of $46.5 million for alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) from 2010 to 2014. Novo Nordisk is a subsidiary of Novo Nordisk U.S. Holdings Inc., which is a subsidiary of Novo Nordisk A/S of Denmark. Novo Nordisk’s U.S. headquarters is in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

“Today’s resolution demonstrates the Department of Justice’s continued commitment to ensuring that drug manufacturers comply with the law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “When a drug manufacturer fails to share accurate risk information with doctors and patients, it deprives physicians of information vital to medical decision-making.”

In a civil complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asserting claims under the FDCA, the government alleged that, at the time of Victoza’s approval in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required a REMS to mitigate the potential risk in humans of a rare form of cancer called Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma (MTC) associated with the drug. The REMS required Novo Nordisk to provide information regarding Victoza’s potential risk of MTC to physicians. A manufacturer that fails to comply with the requirements of the REMS, including requirements to communicate accurate risk information, renders the drug misbranded under the law.

As alleged in the complaint, some Novo Nordisk sales representatives gave information to physicians that created the false or misleading impression that the Victoza REMS-required message was erroneous, irrelevant, or unimportant. The complaint further alleges that Novo Nordisk failed to comply with the REMS by creating the false or misleading impression about the Victoza REMS-required risk message that violated provisions of the FDCA and led some physicians to be unaware of the potential risks when prescribing Victoza.

As alleged in the government’s complaint, after a survey in 2011 showed that half of primary care doctors polled were unaware of the potential risk of MTC associated with the drug, the FDA required a modification to the REMS to increase awareness of the potential risk. Rather than appropriately implementing the modification, the complaint alleges that Novo Nordisk instructed its sales force to provide statements to doctors that obscured the risk information and failed to comply with the REMS modification. Novo Nordisk has agreed to disgorge $12.15 million in profits derived from its unlawful conduct in violation of the FDCA.

“Novo Nordisk’s actions unnecessarily put vulnerable patients at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. “We are committed to holding companies accountable for violating the integrity of the FDA’s efforts to ensure that doctors and patients have accurate information that allows them to make appropriate decisions about which drugs to use in their care. Working with the FDA and other law enforcement partners, we have sent a strong signal to the drug industry today.”

“Novo Nordisk Inc. sales representatives misled physicians by failing to accurately disclose a potential life threatening side effect of a prescription drug, and needlessly increased risks to patients being treated with this drug,” said Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI is committed to ensuring that the private industry provides honest and accurate risk information to the public and will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate companies who do not comply with FDA-mandated policies.”

“We need to trust that pharmaceutical companies truthfully represent their products’ potential risks,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to work with our partners to ensure federal health care dollars are spent only on drugs that are marketed honestly.”

Novo Nordisk will pay an additional $46.5 million to the federal government and the states to resolve claims under the FCA and state false claims acts. This portion of the settlement resolves allegations that Novo Nordisk caused the submission of false claims from 2010 to 2014 to federal health care programs for Victoza by arming its sales force with messages that could create a false or misleading impression with physicians that the Victoza REMS-required message about the potential risk of MTC associated with Victoza was erroneous, irrelevant, or unimportant and by encouraging the sale to and use of Victoza by adult patients who did not have Type II diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Victoza as safe and effective for use by adult patients who do not have Type II diabetes.

As a result of today’s FCA settlement, the federal government will receive $43,129,026 and state Medicaid programs will receive $3,320,963. The Medicaid program is funded jointly by the state and federal governments.

The FCA settlement resolves seven lawsuits filed under the whistleblower provision of the federal FCA, which permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in a portion of the government’s recovery. The civil lawsuits are captioned as follows: United States, et al. ex rel. Kennedy, v. Novo A/S, et al., No. 13-cv-01529 (D.D.C.), United States, et al. ex rel. Dastous, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, No. 11-cv-01662 (D.D.C), United States, et al., ex rel. Ferrara and Kelling v Novo Nordisk, Inc., et al., No. 1:11-cv-00074 (D.D.C.), United States, et al., ex rel. Myers v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., No. 11-cv-1596 (D.D.C.), United States, et al. ex rel Stepe v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., No. 13-cv-221 (D.D.C.), United States et al. ex rel Doe, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., et al., No. 1:17-00791 (D.D.C.), and United States ex rel. Smith, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., Civ. Action No. 16-1605 (D.D.C.). The amount to be recovered by the private parties has not been determined.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Commercial Litigation Branch, with assistance from the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel. The investigation was conducted by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the FBI, HHS-OIG, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Inspector General.

For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information on the Commercial Litigation Branch’s Fraud Section, visit https://www.justice.gov/civil/fraud-section. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc.