U.S. Files New Complaint Against City Of Los Angeles and a Former Redevelopment Agency to Recover Millions of Federal Grant Dollars Allegedly Obtained by Making False Promises to Provide Housing to Persons with Disabilities

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The United States late yesterday filed a complaint in intervention against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA (formerly the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles) alleging that together they fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in housing grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by falsely certifying that the money was being spent in compliance with federal accessibility laws.

The complaint in intervention – which replaces a complaint previously filed on behalf of the United States by a “whistleblower” – alleges the city and CRA/LA received federal money by falsely promising to create accessible housing for people with disabilities. Instead of creating accessible housing, they used the money to create inaccessible housing that deprived people with disabilities an equal opportunity to find housing of their choice.

The city repeatedly certified its compliance with federal accessibility laws to obtain the federal funds without taking the required steps to ensure it complied, according to the complaint, which further alleges that many of the HUD-assisted apartment buildings failed to meet minimal accessibility requirements. The city allegedly approved the design and construction of inaccessible buildings, with, among other things:

  • slopes and ramps that are too steep for safe passage by persons with mobility disabilities;
  • door thresholds that are too tall for wheelchairs to roll over;
  • steps that prohibit access to common areas;
  • kitchen cabinets, shelves and surfaces that are outside of the accessible reach ranges of persons who use wheelchairs;
  • sinks, grab bars, mailboxes and circuit breakers mounted beyond the reach of wheelchair users;
  • pipes below sinks and lavatories that are not insulated, thereby posing a physical threat of burns to people who use wheelchairs; and
  • insufficient numbers of accessible parking spaces in garages and lots.

“The complaint filed yesterday underscores the Department’s commitment to ensure that people with disabilities are provided equal access to federally-funded public housing, as required by law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

“Despite the federal government investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Los Angeles to create housing for everyone, the City of Los Angeles instead created housing only for some,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown for the Central District of California. “For 17 years, the city falsely certified that it had complied with federal law and covered up its repeated disregard of historic and important civil rights laws.”

The city and the CRA/LA allegedly violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, as well as failed to fulfill their duty to affirmatively further fair housing. Congress passed these accessibility laws to ensure people with disabilities have an opportunity to live in an integrated society, achieve independent living, and have the same opportunities for economic and social self-sufficiency as other citizens.

By law, the city and the CRA/LA are required to comply with the federal accessibility laws. They could not – neither directly, nor through contractual or other arrangements – deny people with disabilities the opportunity to benefit from housing services or subject them to discrimination based on disability.

The accessibility laws require recipients of federal funds to operate their housing programs in a manner that is accessible to people with disabilities. Among other things, they must have a system in place to ensure compliance with the laws. They are required to develop non-discriminatory policies and practices, hire a coordinator knowledgeable about accessibility, and implement a grievance procedure that allows for just resolution of complaints. They also must maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features so that people who require those features are able to find housing.

The federal accessibility laws also require that recipients of federal monies have a method in place to avoid giving accessible units needed by people with disabilities to people who do not need accessibility features. The laws also require that recipients of federal monies monitor apartment buildings to ensure they are designed, constructed and altered in compliance with the law so that, among other things, five percent of all units in certain multifamily housing will be accessible to people with mobility impairments, and an additional two percent will be accessible to people with visual and auditory impairments.

The United States’ lawsuit alleges that the city and CRA/LA failed to meet these legal obligations.

The lawsuit, United States ex rel. Ling, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., CV11-974-PG, was originally filed in U.S. District Court by whistleblowers Mei Ling, a resident of Los Angeles who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group. The United States elected to intervene in the lawsuit and take over the litigation, which prompted the unsealing of the whistleblowers’ complaint in June. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez.

The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam – or whistleblower – provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery.

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the HUD Office of Inspector General.

The claims asserted against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardiac Monitoring Companies and Executive Agree to Pay $13.45 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations

Monday, June 26, 2017

AMI Monitoring Inc. aka Spectocor, its owner, Joseph Bogdan, Medi-Lynx Cardiac Monitoring LLC, and Medicalgorithmics SA, the current majority owner of Medi-Lynx Cardiac Monitoring LLC, have agreed to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by billing Medicare for higher and more expensive levels of cardiac monitoring services than requested by the ordering physicians, the Department of Justice announced today. Spectocor and Bogdan have agreed to pay $10.56 million, and Medi-Lynx and Medicalgorithmics have agreed to pay $2.89 million.

“Independent diagnostic testing facilities that improperly steer physicians to order higher levels of service will be held accountable,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We will vigilantly ensure the appropriate use of our country’s limited Medicare funds.”

From 2011 through 2016, Spectocor, headquartered in McKinney, Texas, and Joseph Bogdan, allegedly marketed the Pocket ECG as capable of performing three separate types of cardiac monitoring services—holter, event, and telemetry. When a physician sought to enroll a patient for Pocket ECG, however, the enrollment process allegedly only allowed the physician to enroll in Pocket ECG for the service which provided the highest rate of reimbursement provided by a patient’s insurance, thus steering the ordering physician to a more costly level of service. In 2013, Medi-Lynx, a related company headquartered in Plano, Texas, began selling the Pocket ECG and allegedly adopted this same enrollment procedure. Medicalgorithmics SA, a limited liability company based in Warsaw, Poland, acquired a controlling interest in Medi-Lynx in September 2016.

“Sophisticated medical technology can be used to help doctors dramatically improve the lives of their patients, but it can also be misused to fraudulently increase medical bills,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick for the District of New Jersey. “Today’s settlement demonstrates that the federal government is committed to preserving the integrity of the Medicare system and ensuring that Medicare funds are spent only for patient care.”

“Billing for unneeded services, as the government alleged, takes unfair advantage of Medicare patients and steals from taxpayers,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “OIG, along with our law enforcement partners, will aggressively investigate these crimes.”

The settlements resolve allegations filed in a lawsuit by Eben Steele, a former sales manager at Spectocor. The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Newark, New Jersey, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case. Mr. Steele will receive approximately $2.4 million from the two settlements.

The government’s resolution of this matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services at 900-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and the HHS-OIG.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. John Doe v. Spectocor Enterprise Services, LLC, et al., Case No. 14-1387 (KSH) (D. N.J.). The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

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.).

Medicare Advantage Organization & Former COO to Pay $32.5 Million

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Freedom Health Inc., a Tampa, Florida-based provider of managed care services, and its related corporate entities (collectively “Freedom Health”), agreed to pay $31,695,593 to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by engaging in illegal schemes to maximize their payment from the government in connection with their Medicare Advantage plans, the Justice Department announced today. In addition, the former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Freedom Health Siddhartha Pagidipati, has agreed to pay $750,000 to resolve his alleged role in one of these schemes.

“When entering into agreements with managed care providers, the government requests information from those providers to ensure that patients are afforded the appropriate level of care,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Today’s result sends a clear message to the managed care industry that the United States will hold managed care plan providers responsible when they fail to provide truthful information.”

The government alleged that Freedom Health submitted or caused others to submit unsupported diagnosis codes to CMS, which resulted in inflated reimbursements from 2008 to 2013 in connection with two of their Medicare Advantage plans operating in Florida. It also alleged that Freedom Health made material misrepresentations to CMS regarding the scope and content of its network of providers (physicians, specialists and hospitals) in its application to CMS in 2008 to expand in 2009 into new counties in Florida and in other states. The government’s settlement with Mr. Pagidipati resolves his alleged role in this latter scheme.

“Medicare Advantage plans play an increasingly important role in our nation’s health care market,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow. “This settlement underscores our Office’s commitment to civil health care fraud enforcement.”

“Medicare Advantage insurers must play by the rules and provide Medicare with accurate information about their provider networks and their patients’ health,” said Chief Counsel to the Inspector General Gregory Demske of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “OIG will investigate and hold managed care organizations accountable for fraud. Moving forward, the innovative CIA reduces the risks to patients and taxpayers by focusing on compliance issues unique to Medicare Advantage plans.”

The allegations resolved by these settlements were brought in a lawsuit under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the Federal False Claims Act and the Florida False Claims Act. These statutes permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to receive a share of any recovery. The whistleblower in this action is Darren D. Sewell, who was a former employee of Freedom Health. The whistleblower’s share in this case has not yet been determined.

The corporate entities related to Freedom and which were part of today’s settlements are: Optimum HealthCare Inc., America’s 1st Choice Holdings of Florida LLC, Liberty Acquisition Group LLC, Health Management Services of USA LLC, Global TPA LLC, America’s 1st Choice Holdings of North Carolina LLC, America’s 1st Choice Holdings of South Carolina LLC, America’s 1st Choice Insurance Company of North Carolina Inc. and America’s 1st Choice Health Plans Inc.

Today’s settlements were the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, The U.S. Attorneys’ Office for the Middle District of Florida, HHS-OIG and the Florida Office of the Attorney General.

The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. The case is captioned United States ex rel. Sewell v. Freedom Health, Inc., et al., Case No. 8:09-cv-1625 (M.D. Fla.).