Leaders Of Jacksonville Armed Drug Trafficking Organization Sentenced To 25 Years In Federal Prison, Ten Other Members Also Sentenced
Tampa ― U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg announced today that the Middle District of Florida (MDFL) collected $160,946,371.39 related to criminal and civil matters in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2021 (FY 2021), during the tenure of his predecessors, Maria Chapa Lopez and Karin Hoppmann. Of that amount, $109,846,390.39 represents total collections in criminal and civil actions. Included in this amount is $60,443,168.31 recovered in its locally handled cases; $21,450,090.69 in criminal cases and $38,993,077.62 in civil cases.
The MDFL’s Civil Division, led by Civil Chief Randy Harwell, recovered a total of $88,396,299.70 on behalf of federal agencies and programs in affirmative civil enforcement cases during the last fiscal year. This amount has two components. In addition to its efforts in local civil cases noted above, the district’s Civil Division also joins forces with other U.S. Attorney’s Offices and with the Department of Justice Civil Frauds Section to address fraud schemes and illegal practices extending beyond district boundaries. The MDFL’s Civil Division recovered an additional $49,403,222.08 in these jointly handled cases.
Additionally, the district’s Asset Recovery Division, led by Chief Anita Cream, working with partner agencies, forfeited $51,099,981 from criminal and civil asset forfeiture actions completed in fiscal year 2021. Forfeited assets deposited into the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund are used to restore funds to crime victims and for a variety of law enforcement purposes. For instance, in FY 2021, more than $6.5 million forfeited in the MDFL in this and prior years was returned to victims of the criminal offenses upon which the forfeitures were based, and more than $2.4 million was shared with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The district anticipates that the vast majority of the more than $51 million forfeited in FY 2021 will be returned to crime victims.
“The commitment of my predecessors, continued leadership by our office’s civil division and asset recovery division chiefs, and great coordination with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners has resulted in the collection and recovery of millions of dollars from those who have sought to benefit from fraud and other illegal activities,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg. “These collected funds will assist victims in their recovery process and aid law enforcement as they continue to hold criminals accountable for their crimes.”
U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, along with the department’s litigating divisions, are responsible for enforcing and collecting civil and criminal debts owed to the U.S. and criminal debts owed to federal crime victims. The law requires defendants to pay restitution to victims of certain federal crimes who have suffered a physical injury or financial loss. While restitution is paid to the victim, criminal fines and felony assessments are paid to the department’s Crime Victims Fund, which distributes the funds collected to federal and state victim compensation and victim assistance programs.
The largest civil collections were from affirmative civil enforcement cases, in which the United States recovered government money lost to fraud or other misconduct or collected fines imposed on individuals and/or corporations for violations of federal health, safety, civil rights, or environmental laws. In addition, civil debts were collected on behalf of several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Defense Health Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Education. See below for MDFL significant civil case highlights.
Significant Affirmative Civil Enforcement Cases
United States and the State of Florida ex rel. Albright v. Regency, Inc., et al.
Case no. 8:19-cv-686-T-30AEP (M.D. Fla.)
“Operation Brace Yourself,” a national takedown staged in April 2019, addressed a major fraud scheme directed at the sale of medically unnecessary durable medical equipment (DME) to Medicare beneficiaries. A qui tam relator filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida that alleged that Regency Inc., a company owned and operated by Kelly Wolfe, fraudulently established DME companies (by providing false information regarding the true owners’ identities, among other misrepresentations on Medicare applications). Regency then sold those companies to other individuals, who used the companies to fraudulently bill Medicare for medically unnecessary DME that resulted from kickbacks or other inappropriate marketing practices. In 2019, the United States Attorney’s Office secured a major asset freeze that reached more than $30 million in cash and luxury items pending the resolution of a number of criminal prosecutions. In February 2021, the qui tam allegations were resolved through an ability-to-pay civil settlement for $20.3 million.
United States v. AAR Corp.; U.S. ex rel. Harvey v. AAR Corp., et al.
Case no. 3:15-cv-00390 (S.D. Ill.)
This civil investigation focused on allegations that a military contractor, AAR Corporation, and its Melbourne, Florida based subsidiary, AAR Airlift Group, Inc., had defrauded the United States while performing under contracts established to maintain military helicopters. A qui tam case was filed in the Southern District of Illinois that alleged the defendants owned and maintained helicopters for use in transporting Department of Defense cargo and personnel in support of missions in Afghanistan and Africa. The qui tam relator contended that the contractor knowingly failed to maintain nine aircraft in accordance with contract requirements, and that consequently, the helicopters were not airworthy and should not have been certified as “fully mission capable.” Separately, the Federal Aviation Authority asked the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida to pursue civil penalties to address overlapping allegations of misconduct by the contractor. In July 2021, the defendants agreed to resolve the qui tam allegations for $11,088,000, and an additional payment of $429,273.69 to resolve the FAA penalty claim.
United States v. Ashish Pal, MD (M.D. Fla.)
This civil investigation resolved allegations that an Orlando-area cardiologist, Dr. Ashish Pal, had performed medically unnecessary ablations and stent procedures on veins that did not qualify for treatment under accepted standards of medical practice. Additionally, the government alleged that Dr. Pal had falsified patient medical records to justify the procedures by overstating the degree of reflux and diameter of veins, and by falsely documenting patient symptoms. The United States also alleged that, in many instances, the ablations had been performed by ultrasound technicians outside their permitted scope of practice. In September 2021, Dr. Pal paid the United States $6.75 million in a civil settlement that resolved these allegations.
United States ex rel. Thompson v. Surgical Care Affiliates, LLC
Case no. 6:15-civ-2189-41LRH (M.D. Fla.)
The United States intervened in this qui tam case in January 2020 and pursued civil claims alleging that a former Orlando urologist and a local surgery practice group had defrauded federal payors through false claims for medically unnecessary lithotripsy services. In January 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a settlement of the claims with the estate of the individual physician (who had passed away after the filing of the law suit) for $1.75 million. In February 2021, the United States settled in principal with the remaining defendants for $3.4 million.
United States ex rel. Herbold v. Doctor’s Choice Home Care Inc., et al.
Case no. 8:15- cv-01044 (M.D. Fla.)
United States ex rel. Billings, Sykes, and Eschoyez-Quiroga v. Doctor’s Choice Home Care Inc.
Case no. 8:16-cv-3112 (M.D. Fla.)
Two qui tam relators filed lawsuits in the Middle District of Florida and alleged that a Sarasota-based home health company, Doctor’s Choice Home Care, had defrauded Medicare in claims for home health services. The relators contended that the defendants offered improper financial inducements to referring physicians in the form of sham medical director agreements and bonuses to physicians’ spouses who were Doctor’s Choice employees and, additionally, that the company pressured clinical personnel to increase home visits to allow Doctor’s Choice to avoid a payment reduction (LUPA) by Medicare. Timothy Beach and Stuart Christensen founded Doctor’s Choice and formerly served as its top executives. These allegations were resolved in November 2020 for $5.158 million paid by Doctor’s Choice related to the inducement and LUPA allegations, and an additional $647,000 paid by Beach and Christensen related to the inducement allegations.
United States ex rel. Thornton v. National Compounding Co. et al.
Case No. 8:15-cv-2647 (M.D. Fla.)
This case alleged that the two owners of telemarketing entities based in the Fort Lauderdale area had defrauded the TRICARE health program through kickback practices designed to incentivize the issuance of compounded medication prescriptions. Jack Lee Stapleton and Jack Hunter Stapleton formerly owned a marketing business which operated under various names including CV McDowell LLC, and J&J Tel Marketing LLC. The United States alleged that these marketing firms used telemarketing to solicit prospective patients to accept compounded medications regardless of patient need, procured prescriptions for those patients, and then sent those prescriptions to compounding pharmacies that had agreed to pay the marketing companies half of the amount TRICARE reimbursed for each prescription. The Stapletons and their companies conspired with pharmacies to identify compounded drug formulas that maximized the level of reimbursement for the drugs, regardless of the medical need for the chosen formula. They then sought to procure large volumes of prescriptions for those formulas. In many cases, the marketers procured prescriptions by paying telemedicine providers who prescribed expensive compounded drugs without ever seeing the patients or conducting any meaningful medical examination. In March 2021, these allegations were resolved through a civil settlement that paid the United States $4 million.
United States v. Isaacson
Case no. 2:17-cv-352-TPB-NPM (M.D. Fla.)
In this case, the United States alleged that a Fort Myers pain clinic, Collier Anesthesia Pain, LLC, and Tampa Pain Relief Center, had engaged in an illegal kickback scheme by causing affiliated surgery centers to waive copayments for surgical facility fees in order to induce patients to receive injection procedures. Additionally, the United States contended that Collier Anesthesia and Tampa Pain knowingly submitted false claims by improperly billing for evaluation and management services and psychological testing services. In February 2021, the defendants agreed to resolve these allegations in a civil settlement that paid $1.6 million.
United States ex rel. Heyck v. Mori, Bean and Brooks, P.A
Case No. 3:18-cv-590-J-39PDB (M.D. Fla.)
A qui tam relator filed a lawsuit alleging that a Jacksonville radiology practice, Mori Bean & Brooks, PA, had billed healthcare programs for radiological images that had been interpreted outside of the United States. Medicare requires that for tele-radiology services to be eligible for reimbursement, they must be performed within the United States. The United States also contended that the practice group billed for radiology services that were initially performed overseas but were re-interpreted by another radiologist in the United States and billed to the second, domestic radiologist as if the latter doctor had performed the original read. The practice group cooperated with the government’s investigation and in November 2020, agreed to resolve the allegations in return for $1.4 million.