News and Press Releases

Middle District Of Florida Ranks First Nationally In The Number Of Civil Cases Defended And Fifth In The Recovery Of Money Defrauded From Federal Programs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7 , 2011

Tampa, FL - U.S. Attorney Robert E. O’Neill announces that the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida (MDFL) was ranked at or near the top of all 94 districts around the country at the end of Fiscal Year 2011, in numerous important statistical categories. The MDFL has one of the busiest Civil Divisions in the country, and ranks first among the districts for the number of cases filed. 

The Civil Division has two core functions: (1) to pursue affirmative economic recoveries in suits brought by the government against private parties for defrauding federal programs; and (2) to defend the interests of the United States in litigation, including defending the public against unwarranted or excessive claims.
For at least the past ten fiscal years, the MDFL Civil Division has led all districts in terms of the total number of cases filed in which the interests of the United States were defended. In FY 2011, the MDFL Civil Division again ranked first among the districts with 4,924 cases handled, creating a workload of approximately 660 cases per Assistant United States Attorney within its division.

According to statistics maintained by the Department of Justice, in fiscal year 2011, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida recovered more than $172 million in monies defrauded from federal programs, placing it fifth nationally among all districts. The recovered monies represents losses to the United States Treasury as a result of procurement, mortgage, and healthcare fraud.  These recoveries return as vital funds to a host of federally funded programs, including Medicare and TriCare. 

For the past two years in a row, the MDFL has had the heaviest qui tam docket in the country. The qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act allow private parties, called “relators,” to sue on behalf of the United States, individuals or companies they believe have knowingly submitted false claims for government funds. Relators are entitled to receive 15 to 25 percent of any recovery if the United States intervenes in the suit, or 25 to 30 percent if the United States declines intervention. Defendants who violate the False Claims Act are liable for three times the government’s damages plus civil penalties. Only one district, the Central District of California, has seen a larger total number of qui tam cases filed since 1986, when the False Claims Act was amended by Congress.

“There is little doubt that we have established the Middle District of Florida’s place as a proactive district in the fight against fraud,” said Mr. O’Neill.  “In these trying economic times we now face, our Office’s commitment to recapturing money defrauded from government programs is of the highest importance.  Our residents deserve a committed, aggressive enforcement approach to problems of this kind.”
In addition to its achievements in the affirmative program, the Middle District of Florida's Civil Division protected federal agencies and programs very effectively in its defensive docket. Eighty percent of defensive cases were resolved in favor of the United States. As well, 100% of negligence cases were resolved in the government's favor.

“In today’s economic climate, everyone is being asked to do more with less.  I am extremely proud of the accomplishments our Civil Division has achieved with more cases and less resources than comparable districts.” said U.S. Attorney O’Neill.  “In defending the interests of the United States, the Civil Division has saved the taxpayers millions of dollars in unwarranted or excessive claims.”

Please see highlighted cases below from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.

Middle District of Florida Affirmative Case Highlights

United States ex rel. Austin v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.

On September 30, 2010, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation agreed to pay $201 million to resolve its civil liability from a Middle District of Florida suit concerning Novartis’s illegal marketing of its Trileptal medication.  Under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug for a specific use, a company may not legally market that drug for other, unapproved uses. However, Novartis promoted Trileptal to physicians for prescription to patients suffering from psychiatric conditions and neuropathic pain despite the fact that the FDA had never approved Trileptal for such uses. Two former Novartis sales representatives filed a federal whistleblower suit under the False Claims Act in Tampa that alerted the United States of Novartis’s off-label marketing regarding Trileptal.  The United States, through the efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, then intervened in the case to prosecute the suit on behalf of all United States citizens. Novartis agreed to pay $201 million to resolve the Middle District of Florida’s suit against it as part of a larger settlement involving other suits filed against Novartis in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  The settlement monies were received during FY2011 and were distributed to both the United States and state governments touched by Novartis’s off-label violations.  The whistleblowers received payments totaling more than $20 million from the federal share of the civil recovery.  

United States ex rel. Maul v. Ameritox, LLC

In November 2010, the MDFL resolved civil kickback claims arising from this qui tam case filed in 2007. The claims were filed by a former sales executive of Ameritox, LLC, a diagnostic blood testing laboratory, that paid cash kickbacks to its client physicians to induce them to refer Medicare reimbursable drug testing business to the lab. The relator also alleged that the lab had paid in-kind kickbacks to physicians, in the form of no cost collector personnel to physicians, also to induce referrals. In November 2010, a settlement of $16,443,665 was paid to the United States and participating states to resolve the Medicare and Medicaid claims associated with the cash and in kind kick backs. The relator received a share of the recovery in excess of $3 million.

Middle District of Florida Defensive Case Highlights

Batistoni v. United States

The Plaintiff alleged that during the process of intubating him for knee surgery, doctors and/or nurses negligently damaged his throat. Following the conclusion of a bench trial, the Court found that Plaintiff’s injury was not caused by the intubation and anesthesia, “which was skillfully and uneventfully performed.”  As a result, judgment was entered in favor of the United States.

Council v. Sec. of the Dept. Of Veterans Affairs

The Plaintiff brought an employment discrimination case filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Following the conclusion of a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hammett v. TSA

This was an employment discrimination case filed by a former security screener at the Orlando airport, alleging discrimination and retaliation.  The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the TSA.


Holzworth v. United States

This was a personal injury case brought by bicyclist who was involved in an accident with a postal truck while crossing the street.  The Court granted the United States summary judgment, finding that the postal driver was not negligent in the accident.

Jennings v. Holder, et al.

This case was brought by a firearms designer, manufacturer and distributor, who was convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence (MCDV).  After the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) revoked his Federal Firearms License, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit challenging ATF’s interpretation and application of the “Lautenberg Amendment” in the Gun Control Act which established a firearms disability for those convicted of a MCDV. The district court granted the United States’ motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the case with prejudice.

Rio v. United States

The Plaintiff claimed the Department of Veteran’s Affairs failed to appreciate his severe, persistent headache symptoms as signs of the catastrophic stroke he later suffered. Following a bench trial, the Court entered judgment in favor of the United States and issued a detailed opinion finding no breach of the standard of care.

Schwend, Inc. v. Zurita

The Plaintiff brought an action against United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigators who investigated a discrimination charge concerning a hangman’s noose suspended from a wooden beam in the company’s shop.  The Plaintiff alleged that the EEOC investigators violated his constitutional rights when they issued a subpoena and conducted an on-site investigation. The Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment motion.

Steele v. Sec. of the Dept. Of Veterans Affairs

A former employee of the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) alleged that the VA terminated his employment because of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.  The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the VA, finding that the Plaintiff did not meet his burden of establishing a prima facie case of age discrimination.

 

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