A New Trend in the Government’s Fight Against Health Care Fraud and Pill Mills: Civil Forfeiture

CEB Blog Label2By Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Recently, we have noticed government prosecutors and agencies, including the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the U.S. Attorney General’s (AG) Office, and local sheriff and police departments use the Civil Forfeiture Act against licensed health professionals and health facilities in health-related cases.

A quick, aggressive defense to these actions may recover the property or funds seized. A good defense can also be used to help resolve any pending criminal charges.

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act and the Federal Forfeiture Act.

In Florida, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, Sections 932.701 through 932.707, Florida Statues permits the government to seize personal property if there is probable cause to believe that property is either an instrumentality or the proceeds of criminal activity. In federal cases, such as Medicare fraud cases, the Federal Forfeiture Act can be found at 18 U.S.C. §983.

Usually, a forfeiture action begins when personal property is seized as a result of a violation or arrest.  The owner of the personal property is then entitled to a notice within five days of the seizure.

If you are the subject of a seizure, always ask for:

1.  An inventory of the seized items.
2.  A Receipt.
3.  The business cards or names, addresses, titles and phone numbers of each official or agent involved.

Know Your Rights If You Are the Subject Of a Seizure.

Your most important right after a seizure is the right to an adversarial preliminary hearing.  This request must be made in writing within 15 calendar days of receipt of the notice. Sometimes the notice is given at the time the property is seized. It is important not to lose or misplace it.

When an adversarial preliminary hearing is held, the Court will review the verified affidavit and any other supporting documents and take testimony to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the seized property was used, is being used, was attempted to be used, or was intended to be used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.

While the burden of proof at this initial stage favors the government, the adversarial preliminary hearing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to fight for the return of the property and assert any defenses in the case.  Even if unsuccessful at this hearing, the property owner is still entitled to a later civil forfeiture trial in which the government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was used in the commission of or obtained through the proceeds of criminal activity. Often it is unable to do this and far more defenses are available for use at the trial.

The key to success in civil forfeiture actions is to immediately consult with an experienced attorney after the property has been seized. Your best defense is to act as quickly as possible.

The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing.

The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing is also a tool by which a defendant can obtain early, detailed discovery on his or her case. During the hearing the law enforcement authorities will be required to testify under oath and produce any documentary evidence. This can prove invaluable to the criminal defense attorney in later criminal proceedings.

The Main Purpose of Civil Forfeitures.

Although the government would contend otherwise, we believe the main purpose in the government’s use of civil forfeitures is to shut down the alleged criminal and make it so he or she cannot hire an attorney to defend the person(s) accused. This does, unfortunately, often work. However, there are defenses and often the government exceeds the bounds of propriety.

File Separate Claims for Each Individual Involved.

If a family member has an interest in the property, especially if that person is named on the account or title, that person should file a separate claim for return of the property and demand a Preliminary Adversarial Hearing. Even if the initial hearing is not successful in achieving an early return of the property, such defenses should prevail at the trial of the case.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Civil Forfeiture Cases.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, mental health counselors and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, civil forfeitures, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of the Civil Forfeiture Act being used against health care professionals and health facilities? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Authors: Christopher E. Brown, J.D., is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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The Government’s Use of Civil Forfeiture to Combat Health Care Fraud and Pill Mills in Florida

CEB Blog Label2By Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Recently we have seen government prosecutors and agencies, including the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the U.S. Attorney General’s (AG) Office, and local sheriff and police departments use the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act against health professionals and health facilities in health-related cases.

A prompt, aggressive defense to these actions may recover the property or funds seized and, more importantly, a good defense can be used to help resolve any pending criminal charges.

Civil Forfeiture of Property is Used to Fight Alleged Criminal Activity.

The civil forfeiture of property has become a popular tool for state and federal agencies to combat alleged criminal activity.  In Florida, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, Sections 932.701 through 932.706, Florida Statues permits the government to seize personal property if there is probable cause to believe that property is either an instrumentality or the proceeds of criminal activity. In federal cases, such as Medicare fraud cases, the Federal Forfeiture Act can be found at 18 U.S.C. §983.Typically, a forfeiture action begins when personal property is seized as a result of a violation or arrest.  The owner of the personal property is then entitled to a notice within five (5) days of the seizure.

Remember If You Are The Subject of a Seizure, Ask For:

1.  An inventory of the seized items.

2.  A Receipt.

3.  The business cards or names, addresses, titles and phone numbers of each official or agent involved.

What is The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing?

Your most important right after a seizure is the right to an adversarial preliminary hearing.  This request must be made in writing within fifteen (15) calendar days of receipt of the notice. Sometimes the notice is given at the time the property is seized; it is important not to lose or misplace it.

When an adversarial preliminary hearing is held, the Court will review the verified affidavit and any other supporting documents and take testimony to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the seized property was used, is being used, was attempted to be used, or was intended to be used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.

While the burden of proof at this initial stage favors the government, the adversarial preliminary hearing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to fight for the return of the property and assert any defenses that exist in the case.  Even if unsuccessful at this hearing, the property owner is still entitled to a later civil forfeiture trial in which the government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was used in the commission of or obtained through the proceeds of criminal activity. Often it is unable to do this and far more defenses are available for use at the trial.

The key to success in civil forfeiture actions is to immediately consult with an experienced attorney after the property has been seized. Your best defense is to act as quickly as possible.

Use of Adversarial Preliminary Hearing to Obtain Information for Defense.

The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing is also a tool by which a defendant can obtain early, detailed discovery on his or her case. During the hearing the law enforcement authorities will be required to testify under oath and produce any documentary evidence. This can prove invaluable to the criminal defense attorney in later criminal proceedings.

Did the Government Exceed the Bounds of Propriety?

Although the government would contend otherwise, we believe the main purpose in the government’s use of civil forfeitures is to shut down the alleged criminal and make it so he or she cannot hire an attorney to defend the person(s) accused. This does, unfortunately, often work.

However, there are defenses and often the government exceeds the bounds of propriety in its overzealousness. We have successfully defended, for example, cases in which:

–  A sheriff’s office seized a spouse’s personal car for which she had traded in her old car.

–  A teenage daughter’s college account that had in it only money she had earned from her part-time job.

–  Money from a business owner’s purse which had been given to her by her mother to pay for her hospital labor and delivery charges.

–  Money from a roll-over IRA account which had been invested long before any criminal activity was alleged to have occurred.

–  Money from a family member’s account which had come from social security payments made for that person.

Every Person Should File a Claim.

If a spouse or other family member has an interest in the property, especially if that person is named on the account or title, that person should file a separate claim for return of the property and demand a Preliminary Adversarial Hearing. Even if the initial hearing is not successful in achieving an early return of the property, such defenses should prevail at the trial of the case.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Civil Forfeiture Cases.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, mental health counselors and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, civil forfeitures, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of the Civil Forfeiture Act being used against health care professionals and health facilities? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
About the Authors: Christopher E. Brown, J.D., is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.


“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Specialty Pharmacy Settles Lawsuit Over Illegal Kickbacks

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on December 27, 2012, that a specialty pharmacy, based in San Diego, California, has agreed to pay a $11.4 million settlement. That payment is to resolve allegations that the company used kickbacks to persuade doctors to write prescription for its products. The allegations came from a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee.

Click here to read the press release from the DOJ.

Expensive Kickbacks Used on Doctors.

An article in Modern Healthcare states that the specialty pharmacy allegedly used tickets to sporting events, concerts, plays, spa outings, golf games and ski trips to bribe doctors to write prescriptions for its products. The company also had representatives schedule paid “preceptorships,” where the reps would follow doctors in their offices in an attempt to increase prescriptions written for their products.

To read the Modern Healthcare article, click here.

Settlement Details.

The specialty pharmacy company agreed to a forfeiture of $1.4 million to resolve the anti-kickback statue allegations. It will also pay $9.9 million to resolve false claims allegations, according to the DOJ. Representatives with the DOJ said that by entering the deferred prosecution agreement the company was able to avoid criminal and civil liability for the kickback and false claims violations.

Whistleblower Gets Reward.

According to the DOJ, the settlement resolves a False Claims Act lawsuit that was filed by a former sales representative for the specialty pharmacy. As part of the resolution, that whistleblower will receive $1.7 million.

Whistleblowers stand to gain substantial amounts, sometimes as much as thirty percent (30%), of the amount the government recovers under the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. Sect. 3730). Such awards encourage employees and contractors to come forward and report fraud. You can learn more on the False Claims Act on the DOJ website.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of the settlement agreement? As a health professional are you tempted with kickbacks? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Department of Justice. “Victory Pharma Inc. of San Diego Pays $11.4 Million to Resolve Kickback Allegations in Connection with Promotion of Its Drugs.” Department of Justice. (December 27, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/December/12-civ-1547.html

Kutscher, Beth. “$11.4 Million Settlement in Pharma Kickback Case.” Modern Healthcare. (December 27, 2012). From: ttp://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20121227/NEWS/312279957/

About the Authors: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Pharmacy Owner Admits to $23 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

5 Indest-2008-2By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A co-owner and operator of three Miami-area pharmacies pleaded guilty on December 6, 2012, for his part in a $23 million health care fraud scheme. The pharmacy owner allegedly admitted in the Florida Southern Federal District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to pay illegal health care kickbacks, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.

Click here to read the entire press release from the DOJ.

Pharmacy Owner and Co-Conspirators Used a Network of Beneficiaries to Bill Medicare and Medicaid.

According to court documents, the pharmacy owner allegedly admitted to paying illegal kickbacks to an unnamed number of co-conspirators in return for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiary information. That information was then used to submit fraudulent claims. A majority of the beneficiaries referred to the owner’s pharmacies reportedly resided at assisted living facilities (ALFs) in Miami.

The court documents state that the pharmacy owner also allegedly paid kickbacks to physicians in exchange for prescription referrals which were also billed to Medicare.

Unused and Partially Used Medications Were Also Allegedly Used in Scheme.

As part of the scheme, the pharmacy owner allegedly instructed drivers working for his pharmacies to pick up unused medications from ALFs around Miami. The medications were then allegedly placed back into pill bottles. Unused and partially used medications were billed back to Medicare and Medicaid, according to court documents.

Click here to read the court documents on this case.

The pharmacy owner and his co-conspirators allegedly submitted more than $23 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Florida Medicaid programs.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think of this case? Is the Miami area just a hotbed for Medicare and Medicaid schemes? Please leave any thoughtful comment below.

Sources:

United States of America v. Jose Carlos Morales. Case Number 12-23374, Preliminary Injunction and Supporting Memorandum of Law. (September 14, 2012). From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/USA%20v%20Morales.pdf

Department of Justice. “Pharmacy Owner Pleads Guilty in Miami for Role in $23 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme.” Department of Justice . (December 6, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/December/12-crm-1461.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.