The Department of Justice collected more than $3.5 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against the government in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. This is the fourth year in a row that the department has exceeded $3.5 billion in cases under the False Claims Act, and brings total recoveries from January 2009 to the end of the fiscal year to $26.4 billion.
Of the $3.5 billion recovered last year, $1.9 billion came from companies and individuals in the health care industry for allegedly providing unnecessary or inadequate care, paying kickbacks to health care providers to induce the use of certain goods and services, or overcharging for goods and services paid for by Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health care programs. The $1.9 billion reflects federal losses only. In many of these cases, the department was instrumental in recovering additional millions of dollars for consumers and state Medicaid programs.
The next largest recoveries were made in connection with government contracts. The government depends on contractors to feed, clothe, and equip our troops for combat; for the military aircraft, ships, and weapons systems that keep our nation secure; as well as to provide everything that is needed to fund myriad programs at home. Settlements and judgments in cases alleging false claims for payment under government contracts totaled $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2015.
The False Claims Act is the government’s primary civil remedy to redress false claims for government funds and property under government contracts, including national security and defense contracts, as well as under government programs as varied as Medicare, veterans’ benefits, federally insured loans and mortgages, highway funds, research grants, agricultural supports, school lunches, and disaster assistance. In 1986, Congress strengthened the Act by amending it to increase incentives for whistleblowers to file lawsuits on behalf of the government.
Most false claims actions are filed under the Act’s whistleblower, or qui tam, provisions that allow individuals to file lawsuits alleging false claims on behalf of the government. If the government prevails in the action, the whistleblower, also known as the relator, receives up to 30 percent of the recovery. Whistleblowers filed 638 qui tam suits in fiscal year 2015 and the department recovered $2.8 billion in these and earlier filed suits this past year. Whistleblower awards during the same period totaled $597 million.
Including this past year’s $1.9 billion, the department has recovered nearly $16.5 billion in health care fraud since January 2009 to the end of fiscal year 2015 “ñ more than half the health care fraud dollars recovered since the 1986 amendments to the False Claims Act. These recoveries restore valuable assets to federally funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE “ñ the health care program for the military. But just as important, the department’s vigorous pursuit of health care fraud prevents billions more in losses by deterring others who might otherwise try to cheat the system for their own gain.
Two of the largest health care recoveries this past year were from DaVita Healthcare Partners, Inc., the leading provider of dialysis services in the United States. DaVita paid $450 Million to resolve allegations that it knowingly generated unnecessary waste in administering the drugs Zemplar and Venofer to dialysis patients, and then billed the government for costs that could have been avoided. DaVita paid an additional $350 Million to resolve claims that it violated the False Claims Act by paying kickbacks to physicians to induce patient referrals to its clinics. DaVita is headquartered in Denver, Colorado, and has dialysis clinics in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Hospitals were involved in nearly $330 million in settlements and judgments this past year. A cardiac nurse and a health care reimbursement consultant filed a qui tam suit against hundreds of hospitals that were allegedly implanting cardiac devices in Medicare patients contrary to criteria established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in consultation with cardiologists, professional cardiology societies, cardiac device manufacturers, and patient advocates. The department settled with nearly 500 of these hospitals for a total of $250 million, including $216 million recovered in the past fiscal year.
Several settlements involved violations of the Stark Law. The Stark Statute prohibits certain financial relationships between hospitals and doctors that could improperly influence patient referrals. Services provided in violation of the Stark Statute are not reimbursable by Medicare or Medicaid.
Skilled nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities have also been fertile ground for civil fraud and false claims actions. In the largest failure of care settlement with a skilled nursing home chain in the department’s history, Extendicare Health Services Inc. and its subsidiary, Progressive Step Corporation, agreed to pay the United States $32.3 million to resolve allegations that Extendicare billed Medicare and Medicaid for deficient nursing services and billed Medicare for medically unreasonable and unnecessary rehabilitation therapy services. Extendicare and Pro-Step paid an additional $5.7 million to eight states for their Medicaid losses. The department has ongoing litigation against additional nursing home chains and rehabilitation centers based on similar allegations of false claims for medically unreasonable or unnecessary rehabilitation therapy.
The department has recovered over $5 billion in housing and mortgage fraud from January 2009 to the end of fiscal year 2015, including this past year’s recoveries of $365 million.
These recoveries are part of the broader enforcement efforts by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency task force in 2009, to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.
Government contracts and federal procurement accounted for $1.1 billion in fraud settlements and judgments in fiscal year 2015, bringing procurement fraud totals to nearly $4 billion from January 2009 to the end of the fiscal year. Significant cases include a $146 million settlement with Supreme Group B.V. and several of its subsidiaries for alleged false claims to the Department of Defense (DoD) for food, water, fuel, and transportation of cargo for American soldiers in Afghanistan. Supreme Group is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). In addition, Supreme Group affiliates Supreme Foodservice GmbH, a privately held Swiss company, and Supreme Foodservice FZE, a privately-held UAE company, pleaded guilty to related criminal violations and paid more than $288 million in criminal fines.
In two other defense contract settlements, Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems, a subsidiary of aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Inc., paid $27.5 million and DRS Technical Services Inc. paid $13.7 million to resolve allegations that their employees lacked required job qualifications while the companies charged for the higher level, qualified employees required under contracts with U.S. Army Communication and Electronics Command (CECOM). The CECOM contracts were designed to give the Army rapid access to products and services for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a pair of cases involving contracts with the General Services Administration, VMware Inc. and Carahsoft Technology Corporation paid the United States $75.5 million and Iron Mountain Companies paid $44.5 million to settle their respective liability under the False Claims Act. The government alleged that California-based VMware and Virginia-based Carahsoft misrepresented their commercial sales practices, which resulted in overcharging government agencies for their software products and services sold through GSA’s Multiple Award Schedule. Similarly, Iron Mountain, a records storage company headquartered in Massachusetts, misrepresented its commercial sales practices to GSA and failed to give certain discounts given to its commercial customers, as required to gain access to the vast federal marketplace available to contractors through the Multiple Award Schedule.
Other Fraud Recoveries and Actions
Although health care, mortgage, and government contract fraud dominated fiscal year 2015 recoveries, the department has aggressively pursued fraud wherever it is found in federal programs. For example, the department recovered $44 million fromvan Insurance Company for alleged fraud under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s federal crop insurance program. The United States alleged that Fireman’s Fund knowingly issued federally reinsured crop insurance policies that were ineligible for federal reinsurance. Specifically, Fireman’s Fund allegedly backdated policies, forged farmers’ signatures, accepted late and altered documents, whited-out dates and signatures, and signed documents after relevant deadlines. The policies were issued by Fireman’s Fund offices in California, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Texas, and Washington.
The department also recovered $13 million from a for-profit education company based in White Marsh, Maryland, for alleged false claims to the Department of Education for student aid for students whose qualifications for admission were falsified to get them enrolled so they could receive aid which would be paid to the school. Education Affiliates operates 50 campuses throughout the United States under various trade names.
In a second action, the department filed suit against Florida-based Air Ideal Inc. and its owner, Kim Amkraut. The government alleged that Air Ideal and Amkraut falsely certified that the company qualified for preferences given to small businesses located in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) when Air Ideal’s HUBZone location was no more than a virtual office and its principal place of business was in a non-HUBZone location. The government further alleged that Air Ideal used its fraudulently-procured HUBZone certification to obtain contracts from the Coast Guard, Army, Army Corps of Engineers, and Department of the Interior that were worth millions of dollars. The department settled with Air Ideal and Amkraut for $250,000 plus five percent of Air Ideal’s gross revenues for five years.
Holding Individuals Accountable
On Sept. 9, Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates issued a memorandum on individual accountability for corporate wrongdoing. This memorandum reinforced the department’s commitment to use the False Claims Act and other civil enforcement tools to deter and redress fraud by individuals as well as corporations.
Source: Department of Justice