Author Archives: Parker Eastin

Tampa Ambulance Providers Agree To Pay $5.5 Million To Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Regarding Medically Unnecessary Ambulance Transports

United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced yesterday that AmeriCare Ambulance Service, Inc. and its sister company, AmeriCare ALS, Inc. (collectively, AmeriCare), have agreed to pay approximately $5.5 million to resolve allegations that they defrauded Medicare by billing for medically unnecessary ambulance transportation services.

“Fraudulently billing the government for medically unnecessary ambulance transports poses a heavy drain on the Treasury, deprives federal health care programs of valuable resources, and will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Chapa Lopez. “This lawsuit and today’s settlement evidence our office’s ongoing efforts to safeguard federal health care program beneficiaries from the effects of this type of unlawful conduct.”

According to a complaint filed by the government last year, from January 2008 through December 2016, AmeriCare submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare and TRICARE for Basic Life Support (BLS), non-emergency ambulance transports that were not medically justified. In support of these allegations, the government cited information regarding unwarranted ambulance transports it had received from numerous AmeriCare employees, as well as audits conducted by the agencies that administer Medicare and TRICARE. The government also cited damaging testimony it had elicited under oath from members of AmeriCare’s management team during the course of the investigation. This testimony, along with the other evidence obtained by the government, revealed that AmeriCare had engaged in a systemic practice – over many years – of submitting fraudulent claims to the government falsely attesting to the medical necessity of its non-emergent, BLS ambulance transports. That proof also revealed that AmeriCare had created thousands of false reports and other documentation during this time period, in a failed effort to support this illicit practice.

In addition to paying approximately $5.5 million, AmeriCare has also agreed to enter into an integrity agreement with the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Medical service providers who engage in systemic fraud at the core of their business levy an assault on federal health care programs and the American taxpayer,” said Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “In spite of often false medical documents, the OIG and our partners will not be deterred in our efforts to root out this type of fraud and protect the American public.”

“This settlement demonstrates the effectiveness of investigations by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our law enforcement partners to ensure that medical service providers do not bill for unnecessary services that divert and waste precious taxpayer dollars,” said Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, Southeast Field Office. “DCIS protects the integrity of DoD programs by rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse that negatively impacts critical programs such as TRICARE.”

This settlement concludes a lawsuit originally filed by a former AmeriCare employee, Ernest Sharp. The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act that 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 here. Mr. Sharp will receive roughly $1.15 million of the proceeds of the settlement with AmeriCare.

The case is captioned United States, et al. ex rel. Sharp v. AmeriCare Ambulance, Case No. 8:13-cv-1171-T-33AEP. The settlement resolves the United States’ claims in that case.  The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

If you know of or suspect Medicare fraud, contact us now.

Lockheed Martin Agrees To Pay $4.4 Million To Resolve Claims It Provided Faulty Equipment To The Coast Guard

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corporation has agreed to a settlement valued at $4.4 million to resolve allegations that it violated the civil False Claims Act by providing defective communications systems for the United States Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters, announced Acting United States Attorney Alex G. Tse and Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Field Office Amanda Thandi.

Lockheed, headquartered in Maryland, provided communications systems for the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters.  The United States alleges that the Radio Frequency Distribution System (RFDS) Lockheed provided fails to meet the requirement of transmitting and receiving several different radio signals at the same time without undue interference (known as simultaneous operations).  The Coast Guard has taken delivery of the first six Cutters and three additional Cutters are under construction.  All nine Cutters have versions of the same RFDS.  To settle the allegations, Lockheed has agreed to pay $2.2 million, and to provide the Coast Guard with repairs to the RFDS on the nine Cutters at no charge.  The repairs are valued at $2.2 million.

“This office remains committed to fighting fraud and false claims against the federal government,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tse.  “It is essential that the communications systems on the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters work properly.  I am pleased that Lockheed has agreed to repair the systems so that they fully function to support the Coast Guard’s important mission.”

The settlement, unsealed today, resolves a whistleblower lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.  An engineer who formerly worked for Lockheed filed the case pursuant to the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act.  Under those provisions, private citizens, known as “relators,” may file lawsuits on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of the proceeds of a settlement or judgment.  In this case, the relator will receive $990,000 as his share of the government’s recovery from Lockheed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winslow is handling the case with the assistance of Kathy Terry.  The settlement is the result of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service.  Technical aspects of the settlement were made possible by the verification and coordination of United States Navy engineers, led by the Principal Engineer from the Coast Guard.

If you know of or suspect defense contractor fraud, contact us now.

Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd. and U.S. Based Subsidiary Agree to Pay $422 Million in Global Penalties to Resolve Foreign Bribery Case

Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd. (KOM), a Singapore-based company that operates shipyards and repairs and upgrades shipping vessels, and its wholly owned U.S. subsidiary, Keppel Offshore & Marine USA Inc. (KOM USA), have agreed to pay a combined total penalty of more than $422 million to resolve charges with authorities in the United States, Brazil and Singapore arising out of a decade-long scheme to pay millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Brazil.  KOM USA pleaded guilty today in connection with the resolution.  In addition, a guilty plea by a former senior member of KOM’s legal department was unsealed.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde of the Eastern District of New York, and Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.

“Today’s resolution once again underscores the importance of the Department of Justice’s collaboration with foreign authorities to hold corrupt companies and individuals accountable for their crimes, while ensuring the fair and appropriate allocation of fines and penalties,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “This case also represents the first coordinated FCPA resolution with Singapore and the most recent of several coordinated resolutions with Brazil.  The Criminal Division is committed to working with our international partners to ensure that honest, law abiding companies are able to compete on a level playing field across the globe.”

“The resolutions with KOM and its U.S. subsidiary are the result of a multinational effort to investigate and prosecute a corruption scheme that resulted in the payment by the defendant companies of over $50 million in bribes to Brazilian officials and in profits for the defendant companies of over $350 million from business corruptly obtained in Brazil,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Rohde.  “In an attempt to conceal their crimes, the defendants used the global financial system – including the United States banking system – to disguise the source and disbursement of the bribe payments by passing funds through a series of shell companies.  The United States, working with its law enforcement partners abroad, will continue to hold responsible those corporations and individuals who seek to enrich themselves through the corruption of government officials and legitimate governmental functions.”

“The resolution to this investigation shows to those around the world that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are dedicated to work together to bring justice to companies who play outside the rule of law,” said FBI Assistant Director Richardson.  “The FBI won’t stand by while individuals operate their business illegally using bribes.”

KOM entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department in connection with a criminal information filed today in the Eastern District of New York charging the company with conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.  The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto.  In addition, KOM USA pleaded guilty and was sentenced by Judge Matsumoto on a one-count criminal information charging the company with conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.  Pursuant to its agreement with the Department, KOM will pay a total criminal fine of $422,216,980, with a criminal penalty due to the United States of $105,554,245, including a $4,725,000 criminal fine paid by KOM USA.  As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, KOM also committed to implement rigorous internal controls and to cooperate fully with the Department’s ongoing investigation.

In related proceedings, the company settled with the Ministério Público Federal (MPF) in Brazil and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) in Singapore.  The United States will credit the amount the company pays to Brazil and Singapore under their respective agreements, with Brazil receiving $211,108,490, equal to 50 percent of the total criminal penalty, and Singapore receiving up to $105,554,245, equal to 25 percent of the total criminal penalty.

The Departmant also unsealed charges today against a former senior member of KOM’s legal department, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA on Aug. 29, 2017 in the Eastern District of New York.  He is awaiting sentencing.

According to admissions and court documents, beginning by at least 2001 and continuing until at least 2014, KOM conspired to violate the FCPA by paying approximately $55 million in bribes to officials at the Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras and to the then-governing political party in Brazil, in order to win 13 contracts with Petrobras and another Brazilian entity.  KOM effectuated and concealed the bribe payments by paying outsized commissions to an intermediary, under the guise of legitimate consulting agreements, who then made payments for the benefit of the Brazilian officials and the Brazilian political party.

In reaching the resolutions with the Department, KOM and KOM USA received credit for their substantial cooperation with the Department’s investigation and for taking extensive remedial measures.  For example, KOM has terminated and otherwise disciplined employees involved in the criminal conduct, and it has implemented an enhanced system of compliance and internal controls to address and mitigate corruption risks.  Accordingly, the criminal penalty reflects a 25 percent reduction off the bottom of the applicable U.S. Sentencing Guidelines fine range.

The case is being investigated by the FBI’s International Corruption Squad in Houston.  Trial Attorneys Derek J. Ettinger and David M. Fuhr and Assistant Chief Christopher J. Cestaro of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alixandra Smith  and Patrick Hein of the Eastern District of New York, are prosecuting the case.

If you know of or suspect FCPA violations, contact us now.

DaVita Rx Agrees to Pay $63.7 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations

DaVita Rx LLC, a nationwide pharmacy that specializes in serving patients with severe kidney disease, agreed to pay a total of $63.7 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations relating to improper billing practices and unlawful financial inducements to federal healthcare program beneficiaries, the Justice Department announced yesterday.  DaVita Rx is based in Coppell, Texas.

The settlement resolves allegations that DaVita Rx billed federal healthcare programs for prescription medications that were never shipped, that were shipped but subsequently returned, and that did not comply with requirements for documentation of proof of delivery, refill requests, or patient consent.  In addition, the settlement also resolves allegations that DaVita paid financial inducements to Federal healthcare program beneficiaries in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.  Specifically, DaVita Rx allegedly accepted manufacturer copayment discount cards in lieu of collecting copayments from Medicare beneficiaries, routinely wrote off unpaid beneficiary debt, and extended discounts to beneficiaries who paid for their medications by credit card.  These allegations relating to improper billing and unlawful financial inducements were the subject of self-disclosures by DaVita Rx and a subsequently filed whistleblower lawsuit.

“Improper billing practices and unlawful financial inducements to health program beneficiaries can drive up our nation’s health care costs,” said Civil Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler.  “The settlement announced today reflects not only our commitment to protect the integrity of the healthcare system, but also our willingness to work with providers who review their own practices and make appropriate self-disclosures.”

DaVita Rx has agreed to pay a total of $63.7 million to resolve the allegations in its self-disclosures and the whistleblower lawsuit.  DaVita Rx repaid approximately $22.2 million to federal healthcare programs following its self-disclosure and will pay an additional $38.3 million to the United States as part of the settlement agreement.  In addition, $3.2 million has been allocated to cover Medicaid program claims by states that elect to participate in the settlement.  The Medicaid program is jointly funded by the federal and state governments.

“Providers should not make patient care decisions based upon improper financial incentives or encourage their patients to do the same,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox for the Northern District of Texas.  “The U.S. Attorney’s Office has and will continue to work cooperatively with providers that bring such issues to light to redress the losses the federal healthcare system has incurred.”

“The conduct being resolved in this matter presents serious program integrity concerns” said CJ Porter, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “DaVita Rx’s cooperation in the investigation of this matter was necessary and appropriate to reach this resolution.”

The lawsuit resolved by the settlement was filed by two former DaVita Rx employees, Patsy Gallian and Monique Jones, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government when they discover evidence that defendants have submitted false claims for government funds and to receive a share of any recovery.  The case is captioned United States ex rel. Gallian v. DaVita Rx, LLC, No. 3:16-cv-0943-B (N.D. Tex.).  The relators will receive roughly $2.1 million from the federal recovery.

The settlement 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 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).  HHS also offers several programs for health care providers to self-report potential fraud.  More information on self-disclosure processes can be found on the HHS-OIG website.

The investigation was conducted by HHS-OIG, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.  The claims asserted by the government are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

Dallas-Based Physician-Owned Hospital to Pay $7.5 Million to Settle Allegations of Paying Kickbacks to Physicians in Exchange for Surgical Referrals

Pine Creek Medical Center LLC (“Pine Creek”), a physician-owned hospital serving the Dallas/Fort Worth area, has agreed to pay $7.5 million to resolve claims that it violated the False Claims Act by paying physicians kickbacks in the form of marketing services in exchange for surgical referrals, the Department of Justice announced last week.

“Health care providers that attempt to profit from illegal kickbacks will be held accountable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Improper financial incentives can distort medical decision making and drive up healthcare costs for federal health care programs and their beneficiaries.”

The government alleged that, between 2009 and 2014, Pine Creek engaged in an illegal kickback scheme whereby the hospital would pay for marketing and/or advertising services on physicians’ behalf and, in return, the physicians would refer their patients, including Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries, to Pine Creek.  Among other things, Pine Creek allegedly paid for advertisements on behalf of the physicians in a number of local and regional publications.  Pine Creek also allegedly paid for radio and television advertising, pay-per-click advertising campaigns, billboards, website upgrades, brochures, and business cards, as well as other forms of marketing to induce physicians to refer patients to Pine Creek for medical services.

“The United States Attorney’s Office, in coordination with our partners at Main Justice and HHS-OIG, have and will continue to aggressively pursue those that violate the Anti-Kickback Statute, regardless of the nature or form that the kickback takes,” said Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.  “We must hold individuals and entities responsible for improperly furthering their financial interests at the expense of the federal health care programs.”

As part of the settlement, Pine Creek has agreed to enter into a corporate integrity agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), which obligates the defendants to undertake substantial internal compliance reforms for the next five years.

“Hospitals that try to boost their profits by paying kickbacks to physicians will instead pay for their improper conduct,” said Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General’s Dallas Region.  “We will continue to investigate such illegal business arrangements that undermine impartial medical judgment.”

The settlement resolves allegations originally brought in a lawsuit filed by whistleblowers 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 whistleblowers, Suzanne Scott and Savannah Sogar, former employees of Pine Creek’s marketing department, will receive $1,125,000.

The government’s intervention in this matter illustrates its 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 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

The case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas and the Justice Department’s Civil Division, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Suzanne Scott, et al. v. Pine Creek Medical Center, LLC, Case No. 3:14-cv-3065 (N.D. Tex.). The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

Sarasota Physician Agrees To Pay $1.95 Million To Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Regarding Unnecessary Ultrasounds

Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announced on Friday that Dr. Arthur S. Portnow, the owner and operator of Arthur S. Portnow, P.A., d/b/a Apple Medical and Cardiovascular Group, d/b/a Apple Medical Group (collectively, Dr. Portnow) has agreed to pay $1.95 million to resolve allegations that he and his practice violated the False Claims Act by knowingly seeking reimbursement for medically unnecessary ultrasound tests that were performed on Medicare beneficiaries.

The government alleges that from August 2009 through August 2017, Dr. Portnow submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare for the evaluation and performance of medically unnecessary carotid ultrasounds, lower extremity arterial ultrasounds, abdominal aortic ultrasounds, renal and renal artery ultrasounds, and echocardiograms. The government also alleges that Dr. Portnow falsified patient records in an effort to justify those unnecessary ultrasounds. Dr. Portnow and his practice received hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of this illicit testing.

“Fraudulently billing the government for medically unnecessary tests deprives federal health care programs, like Medicare, of valuable resources,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Muldrow. “This settlement is evidence that our office will continue to pursue those who seek to unlawfully exploit our nation’s federal health care programs at the expense of patients and the Federal Treasury.”

“Physicians who seek to boost their profits by charging taxpayers and patients for medically unnecessary tests will be thoroughly investigated,” said Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General.  “Working in coordination with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to pursue health care professionals who threaten the integrity of Federal health care programs.”

In addition to paying the $1.95 million, as part of the settlement, Dr. Portnow has also agreed to enter into an integrity agreement with the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The settlement concludes a lawsuit originally filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida by a former employee (Kathleen Siwicki) of Dr. Portnow’s practice. The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act that permits 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. Ms. Siwicki will receive roughly $350,000 of the proceeds of the settlement with Dr. Portnow.

The government’s action in this matter illustrates the emphasis on combating health care fraud, and one of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477). The case is captioned United States, et al. ex rel. Siwicki v. Arthur S. Portnow, M.D., et al., Case No. 8:15-cv-987-T-27MAP. The settlement resolves the United States’ claims in that case. The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

This settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the HHS-OIG. It was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Tuite.

CVC Heart Center to Pay $1.2 M to Settle Allegations of Billing Health Care Programs for Medically Unnecessary Nuclear Stress Tests

Cardiovascular Consultants Heart Center (CVC Heart Center), a cardiology clinic with offices in Fresno and Clovis, and its shareholder physicians — Dr. Kevin Boran, Dr. Michael Gen, Dr. Rohit Sundrani, Dr. Donald Gregory, and Dr. William Hanks — will pay $1.2 million to resolve federal and state False Claims Act allegations that they improperly performed and billed federal and state health care programs for medically unnecessary cardiovascular diagnostic procedures, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

The settlement resolves allegations that between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2015, CVC Heart Center submitted claims for cardiovascular nuclear imaging (nuclear stress tests) that were not medically necessary or reasonable. It is alleged that the CVC physicians automatically scheduled patients for nuclear stress tests on an annual basis without seeing the patients beforehand to confirm that the procedure was necessary. A nuclear stress test is an expensive procedure that exposes patients to a significant amount of radiation through the injection of radioactive dyes, as well as to the risk of invasive procedures based on false positive results. This risk is only justified if the nuclear stress test is medically necessary. A Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Local Coverage Determination prohibited the use of nuclear stress tests as a screening procedure.

This case was pursued by Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Baker through a coordinated effort with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and Office of General Counsel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Mississippi Skilled Nursing Facility, Related Companies, and Executives Agree to Pay $1.25 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations of Grossly Substandard Care to Facility Residents

The Department of Justice announced last week that Hyperion Foundation, a Georgia not-for-profit entity (Hyperion), Julie Mittleider, a resident of Georgia and Hyperion’s former President, AltaCare Corporation, a Georgia corporation engaged in nursing home management (AltaCare), Douglas Mittleider, AltaCare’s Chief Executive Officer, and related companies, Long Term Care Services Inc. and Sentry Healthcare Acquirors Inc., have agreed to pay the United States a total of $1.25 million to resolve allegations of false claims to Medicare and the Mississippi Medicaid program for providing grossly substandard care to residents at the Oxford Health and Rehabilitation nursing home in Lumberton, Mississippi, from late 2005 through mid-2012, when it was operated by AltaCare, under a contract with Hyperion.

“Residents of nursing homes are some of our most vulnerable citizens,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Nursing home operators who bill Medicare and Medicaid for providing their residents with grossly deficient services will be held accountable.”

The government alleged that from October 2005 to May 2012, Hyperion made claims to Medicare and Medicaid for providing effectively worthless services to residents at the Lumberton, Mississippi facility, while the facility was managed by AltaCare.  For example, the United States alleged that Hyperion failed to meet the nutritional needs of residents, failed to administer medications to residents as prescribed by their physicians, overmedicated residents, hired insufficient staff to care for them, and diverted Medicare and Medicaid funds to other entities affiliated with Douglas or Julie Mittleider, leaving the facility unable to pay for its basic operations, including food, heat, air conditioning, pest control, and cleaning.  These failures, the United States alleged, caused the facility’s residents to suffer pressure ulcers, falls, dehydration, and malnutrition, among other physical, mental and emotional harms.  As a result, Hyperion allegedly submitted false claims for grossly substandard care, and Douglas Mittleider, AltaCare and certain related companies allegedly caused such false claims.

“When operators of nursing homes harm our most vulnerable citizens and break the law by defrauding our government for grossly substandard or worthless services, we will bring to bear all the resources of the Federal Government in order to rectify these terrible actions,” said D. Michael Hurst, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.  “I commend our attorneys and investigators for resolving this travesty with one of the largest healthcare fraud settlements involving a single nursing home.  We will continue the Department of Justice’s long-standing commitment to protecting the elderly.”

“It’s troubling when a nursing home company and its executives accept Medicare and Medicaid money to care for vulnerable nursing home residents and provide grossly deficient care, as alleged in this case,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to hold nursing homes accountable to ensure residents receive quality healthcare and are provided safe living conditions.”

The settlement resolves allegations filed in a lawsuit by Academy Health Center Inc., the owner and landlord of the Lumberton, Mississippi skilled nursing facility.  The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government for the submission of false claims and share in any recovery.  The False Claims Act authorizes the United States to intervene and take over primary responsibility for the action, as it did in this case.  The amount to be recovered by the private whistleblower has not been determined.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Academy Health Center, Inc. v. Hyperion Foundation, Inc., et al., 3:10-cv-552-CWR-LRA (S.D. Miss.).  It was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi, and HHS-OIG.  The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

If you know of or suspect nursing home fraud, contact us now.

Mercer Transportation Company Agrees To Pay $4.4 Million To Resolve Alleged Violations Of The False Claims Act

G. F. “Pete” Peterman, III, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announced yesterday a civil settlement with trucking company Mercer Transportation Company, Inc. (Mercer). Mercer has agreed to pay $4.4 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by submitting claims for payment related to shipments originating at the Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB) in Albany, Georgia, that were obtained by bribery of Government officials from 2006 through 2012.

This settlement resolves a lawsuit under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to bring civil actions on behalf of the Government 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. The relator who filed this case under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act will receive $814,000 as his share of the recovery.

In its civil complaint, the United States alleged that Mercer, through its agents, employees, and representatives, bribed two Government employees who worked at MCLB in Albany and who were responsible for awarding contracts for the shipment of Government freight out of MCLB. The United States’ complaint alleged that the bribery of these Government employees resulted in Mercer’s being awarded contracts for shipments out of MCLB that it would not have otherwise received during the period from October 2006 through May 2012.

“In simple terms, fraud committed by defense contractors is theft directly from the American people,” Peterman said. “When dealing with the U.S. Government – especially when dealing with the armed forces whose lives may depend on the work of these contractors – contractors are expected to act in good faith and to comply with their obligations. This U.S. Attorney’s Office will hold accountable contractors that seek to profit unfairly at the expense of American troops and taxpayers.”

“This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and its law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of all Department of Defense programs,” said Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, Southeast Field Office. “DCIS’ efforts in this investigation mitigated further significant loss and waste of taxpayer dollars from this fraudulent scheme.”

According to Special Agent in Charge Mike Wiest, NCIS Southeast Field Office, “the preservation of the integrity of Department of Navy procurement activities is a top priority of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Through a joint investigation, NCIS and its partner agencies steadfastly pursued numerous allegations of corruption that caused significant harm to the U.S. Marine Corps and other Department of Defense equities resulting in this settlement.”

“This settlement is a result of the steadfast efforts of our investigators and our law enforcement partners,” said Frank Robey, Director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit. “Uncovering these types of schemes is a cooperative effort, and we look forward to continuing our work together to eradicate corruption.”

The United States’ civil settlement was the result of a coordinated effort among the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, and the U. S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch. The case was investigated by NCIS Special Agent Riley Proctor, DCIS Special Agent Lam Hoang, and Special Agent Jennifer Coleman of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Command.

The United States was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Todd P. Swanson and Assistant United States Attorney W. Taylor McNeill, both of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, and Andrew Steinberg, of the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch.

Mercer fully cooperated in the United States’ pre-intervention investigation. The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability. The case is captioned United States ex rel. James E. Reeves v. Mercer Transportation Co., Inc., (Case No. 1:13-CV-108-LJA (M.D. Ga.).

Chemed Corp. and Vitas Hospice Services Agree to Pay $75 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Relating to Billing for Ineligible Patients and Inflated Levels of Care

Chemed Corporation and various wholly-owned subsidiaries, including Vitas Hospice Services LLC and Vitas Healthcare Corporation, have agreed to pay $75 million to resolve a government lawsuit alleging that defendants violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by submitting false claims for hospice services to Medicare.  Chemed, which is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, acquired Vitas in 2004. Vitas is the largest for-profit hospice chain in the United States.

“Today’s resolution represents the largest amount ever recovered under the False Claims Act from a provider of hospice services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Medicare’s hospice benefit provides critical services to some of the most vulnerable Medicare patients, and the Department will continue to ensure that this valuable benefit is used to assist those who need it, and not as an opportunity to line the pockets of those who seek to abuse it.”

The settlement resolves allegations that between 2002 and 2013 Vitas knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims to Medicare for services to hospice patients who were not terminally ill.  Medicare’s hospice benefit is available for patients who elect palliative treatment (medical care focused on the patient’s relief from pain and stress) for a terminal illness and have a life expectancy of six months or less if their disease runs its normal course.  Patients who elect the hospice benefit forgo the right to curative care (medical care focused on treating the patient’s illness).  The government’s complaint alleged that Vitas billed for patients who were not terminally ill and thus did not qualify for the hospice benefit.  The government alleged that the defendants rewarded employees with bonuses for the number of patients receiving hospice services, without regard to whether they were actually terminally ill and whether they would have benefited from continuing curative care.

The settlement also resolves allegations that between 2002 and 2013, Vitas knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims to Medicare for continuous home care services that were not necessary, not actually provided, or not performed in accordance with Medicare requirements.  Under the Medicare hospice benefit, providers may be reimbursed for four different levels of care, including continuous home care services.  Continuous home care services are only for patients who are experiencing acute medical symptoms causing a brief period of crisis.  The reimbursement rate for continuous home care services is the highest daily rate that Medicare pays, and hospices are paid hundreds of dollars more on a daily basis for each patient they certify as having received continuous home care services rather than routine hospice services.  According to the complaint, the defendants set goals for the number of continuous home care days billed to Medicare and used aggressive marketing tactics and pressured staff to increase the volume of continuous home care claims, without regard to whether the patients actually required this level of crisis care.

“This litigation and settlement demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate and pursue hospice providers engaging in practices that abuse the Medicare hospice benefit,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Thomas M. Larson of the Western District of Missouri.  “The integrity of the Medicare program must not be compromised by a hospice provider’s financial self-interest.”

Vitas also entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) to settle the agency’s administrative claims.

Steve Hanson, Special Agent in Charge, for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Kansas City Region, stated, “Healthcare providers who knowingly overbill our programs simply to increase their profits need to be put on notice that such conduct will not be tolerated, and we will pursue any and all remedies at our disposal to protect the tax payer and the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

In addition to resolving the lawsuit filed by the United States, the settlement resolves three lawsuits filed under the whistleblower provision of the 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 Act permits the United States to intervene in such a lawsuit, as it did in the three whistleblower cases filed against the defendants.  These cases were subsequently transferred to the Western District of Missouri and consolidated with the government’s pending action.  The amount to be recovered by the private whistleblowers has not yet been determined.

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort among the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, with assistance from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Central District of California and the Northern District of Texas and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

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

The civil lawsuits are:  United States v. Vitas Hospice Services, LLC, et al., Civil Action No. 13-00449 (W.D. Mo.); United States ex rel. Laura Spottiswood v. Chemed Corporation, et al., Civil Action No. 13-505 (W.D. Mo.), transferred from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; United States ex rel. Barbara Urick v. VITAS HME Solutions, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 13-536 (W.D. Mo.), transferred from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas; and United States ex rel. Charles Gonzales v. VITAS Healthcare Corporation, et al., Civil Action No. 13-00344 (W.D. Mo.), transferred from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

If you know of or suspect hospice fraud, contact us now.

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