Fraud and billing mistakes cost Medicare – and taxpayers – tens of billions last year

By Fred Schulte, Kaiser Health News 

Federal health officials made more than $16 billion in improper payments to private Medicare Advantage health plans last year and need to crack down on billing errors by the insurers, a top congressional auditor testified Wednesday.

James Cosgrove, who directs health care reviews for the Government Accountability Office, told the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee that the Medicare Advantage improper payment rate was 10 percent in 2016, which comes to $16.2 billion.

Adding in the overpayments for standard Medicare programs, the tally for last year approached $60 billion — which is almost twice as much as the National Institutes of Health spends on medical research each year. (more…)

Broward courts accused of nurturing double standard of justice for poor, minorities

By Dan Christensen, 

Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, left, and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, left, and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

A letter from the U.S. Justice Department urging state judges across the country to eliminate “common” court practices that illegally trap poor defendants in cycles of debt and jail is reverberating in Broward with accusations that courts here favor the well-off.

Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein once again is leading the charge for systemic reform as evidenced by a series of testy recent written exchanges with Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein. Among other things, Finkelstein wants the courts to scrap the use of so-called “convenience bail bonds” the poor often cannot afford, and accuses judges of fostering a “double standard” of justice by ignoring the disparate treatment of minorities and the indigent.

“This jurisdiction’s practices have effectively institutionalized racism by disproportionately incarcerating poor minorities for decades,” Finkelstein concluded Sept. 2 in his most recent letter to Weinstein.

In an interview on Friday, Weinstein replied, “I don’t know where he gets that from. Every judge ascribes to the saying that justice is blind and ignores race, creed, national origin and gender in ruling. Howard can absolutely write what he wants, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so.”

The Department of Justice’s March 14 letter, signed by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, followed a gathering of judges, court administrators, lawmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others last December to discuss fines and fees imposed by state and local courts. The letter said the convocation, held in the wake of the department’s investigation of racially troubled Ferguson, Missouri, “made plain that unlawful and harmful practices exist in certain jurisdictions throughout the country.”

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch described those illegal practices as “the criminalization of poverty.”

The letter explained it was issued to help the courts ensure that they operate fairly, noting the illegal enforcement of court fines and fees can have “profound” effects on low-income persons accused of “misdemeanors, quasi-criminal ordinance violations or civil infractions.”

“Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community;

lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape,” the nine-page letter said. “To the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local government and their constituents.”

A caution from Justice

Among other things, the letter cautioned that courts “must not employ bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release.”

Finkelstein, a state constitutional officer, filed a public records request with the Broward court to obtain a copy of the Justice Department’s letter. Weinstein later explained that he “did not provide the letter to any stakeholder as it was addressed to the courts to assist with review of local practices and procedures.”

Weinstein said Friday he’s waiting on Florida’s Office of the State Court Administrator. “They’re reviewing it and will come back and advise us,” he said. “But I really don’t believe we are doing some of the things we are accused of. We don’t put people in jail because they can’t pay a fine.”

According to Finkelstein’s Sept. 2 letter, however, “Individuals are often held in jail following a magistrate hearing for a minor offense simply because they cannot afford to post the bond.”

Beyond the fundamental question of fairness is the impact that bond requirements have on Broward’s chronically overpopulated jail system, which has been under a federal consent decree and monitoring for decades.

In July, the Sun-Sentinel reported the findings of court-appointed jail population expert Dr. James Austin, who said Broward’s jails typically house 4,500 to 4,600 people, with 5,144 beds, but when the population exceeds 85 percent of capacity – or about 4,400 inmates – the system becomes strained.

According to the paper, Austin’s report went on to say that at the time of his analysis in 2015 about 300 inmates were being held on bonds of $100 or less.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.” Federal courts have interpreted that to mean that a defendant’s bail cannot be set higher than an amount that’s likely necessary to ensure his presence at trial.

Defendants charged with first-degree misdemeanors like petty theft or possession of a small amount of marijuana must post a $100 bond to get out. Those charged with a misdemeanor of the second degree, such as disorderly intoxication or loitering will need $25.

But even those small amounts can be difficult to scrape up for the homeless or the otherwise down and out.

‘Follow other jurisdictions’

In his summer correspondence, Finkelstein urged Weinstein to “follow other jurisdictions and begin implementing the release of misdemeanants without monetary bond.” He cited Calhoun, Ga., which in January “implemented recognizance release procedures” following a federal judge’s order.

The chief judge responded to Finkelstein that Broward judges do consider non-monetary releases “and divert as many individuals as possible to the Broward County Sheriff’s Pre-Trial Release Program.” The program includes screening, assessment and, for those who get out, monitoring.

Yet current bond practices that allow moneyed defendants to post a bond and walk free until trial “disproportionally affects minorities and the indigent,” according to Finkelstein.

“Diverting individuals to the pre-trial release program creates a double-standard wherein those with money are not required to be supervised by the Sheriff’s Office, while those without money require supervision,” Finkelstein wrote in his Sept. 2 letter.

In Friday’s interview, Weinstein said he is opposed to releasing all misdemeanor defendants on their own recognizance, noting that a “staggering” number of warrants are issued every year for defendants who fail to show up for trial.

“Whether to release is within the discretion of the judge,” Weinstein said. He cited domestic violence as a crime that is inappropriate for such treatment.

“Domestic violence may be a misdemeanor, but the amount of psychological abuse and previous physical abuse that a spouse may have suffered may place them at risk of serious emotional harm an even death,” Weinstein said.

In 2015, following complaints from State Attorney Mike Satz’s office, the court revised its bond schedule to require misdemeanor defendants charged with violent offenses such as battery, arson and domestic violence to appear before a First Appearance court judge before being eligible to post bond.

Finkelstein, however, argues that Broward’s bond schedule should be abandoned and that all defendants should be brought before a First Appearance court judge “to allow for individualized release conditions.”

“Individual determinations, however, require a 24-hour magistrate. This circuit has decided not to place such a ‘hardship’ on the judiciary, but instead place the true hardship on the indigent,” Finkelstein wrote.

The release of the 28 pages isn’t the last word in the search for who was behind 9/11

By Dan Christensen, 

The 28 pages originally were censored from the 2003 report of Congress's Joint Inquiry into 9/11.

The 28 pages originally were censored from the 2003 report of Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11.

It took 13 1/2 years and enormous public and political pressure to force President Obama to order today’s release of the suppressed chapter from Congress’s Joint Inquiry report about apparent Saudi support for the 9/11 suicide hijackers.

The pages, however, were not released in full. Nearly every page is speckled with black marks where information was redacted. In some cases, those deletions are of entire paragraphs, almost certainly meaning that controversy about the 28 pages will continue.

Those 28 pages, however, aren’t nearly the last word about the people and events behind 9/11. Tens of thousands, likely hundreds of thousands, of additional U.S. government investigative documents about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks remain classified.

“I hope the 28 pages are the cork in the bottle and that all that other material will now be released,” said former Florida Sen. Bob Graham. Graham co-chaired the Joint Inquiry and has long advocated for the public release of the chapter that was withheld from publication at the direction of President George W. Bush.

The declassification process that led to today’s release of the 28 pages was first sought three years ago by the Florida Bulldog and 9/11 authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, represented by Miami attorney Thomas Julin. The Joint Inquiry’s 838-page report described the hidden chapter as being about “specific sources of foreign sources of support” for the hijackers while they were in the U.S.

In September 2014, in response to criticism that President Obama had failed to keep his promise to 9/11 family members that he would release the 28 pages, the White House announced that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was “coordinating the required interagency review” of the 28 pages for possible declassification.

The declassification review, however, did not include a review of numerous other secret government documents about 9/11 generated by the FBI, CIA, Treasury and State departments and the National Security Agency – or even the 9/11 Commission itself.

The FBI alone has acknowledged that a single field office in Tampa holds 80,000 classified pages about 9/11. Those records are being reviewed for possible public release by the presiding federal judge in a Fort Lauderdale Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Florida Bulldog’s corporate parent in 2012.

The suit seeks the release of FBI files about its investigation of a Sarasota Saudi family with apparent ties to the hijackers who abruptly moved out of their home and returned to Saudi Arabia two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind their cars, clothes, furniture and other possessions.

Last month, 19 survivors and relatives of those who died on Sept. 11th sent a letter to President Obama asking him to designate for “prompt declassification” nine categories of documents “relevant to responsibility for the events of 9/11.”

“We hope and trust that you regard the release of the 28 pages as only a first step in responding to the public calls for transparency and accountability,” the letter says.

The records requested for declassification are:

  • Documents about the involvement of government-sponsored Saudi religious institutions in supporting al Qaeda. The letter identified 10 organizations that should be subject to declassification review, including the Muslim World League, Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Saudi Red Crescent Society and Al Haramain Islamic Foundation.
  • Documents concerning further investigations of the transactions, relationships and issues discussed in the 28 pages.
  • Unreleased records of the 9/11 Commission. In 2004, the Commission had urged that all of its records, to the greatest extent possible, be made publicly available by January 2009. “More than seven years after that target date, the bulk of the Commission’s records have not been processed for declassification at all, and the limited records that have been released are in many cases so heavily-redacted as to be of little use to the American public,” the letter says.
  • Documents relating to the activities, interactions, relationships, contacts and financial transactions of the 9/11 hijackers in Florida and other areas of the United States.
  • Documents about al Qaeda’s wealthy Gulf donors and support by Islamic banks and financial institutions. Those listed are: Al Rajhi Bank, National Commercial Banks, Saudi American Bank, Dubai Islamic Bank, al Shamal Islamic Bank, Faisal Finance and al Baraka.
  • Records relating to Saudi Arabia’s “efforts to promote Wahhabi Islam” and the “relationship between those efforts and terrorist activity, fundraising and recruitment.” Those records are “especially pertinent” because employees of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in the Saudi Embassy and in consulates “were implicated as possibly having provided support to the 9/11 hijackers.” Also, records about “as many as 70” Saudi diplomats associated with Islamic Affairs whose credentials were revoked in the aftermath of 9/11.
  • Records about other investigations of al Qaeda attacks and operations. The letter seeks the “long overdue” release of records involving the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in Pakistan, the attack on the USS Cole, the 1998 African embassy bombings, the Bojinka plot and numerous other incidents.

The victims and relatives, who for years have attempted to sue Saudi Arabia for damages, expressed concern in their letter that the Obama Administration’s public response to calls for transparency “have focused narrowly on the 28 pages alone.”

“Any meaningful effort to provide the American public with the truth concerning Saudi Arabia’s role in the emergence of al Qaeda and the events of 9/11 must encompass the full spectrum of evidence bearing on questions of Saudi culpability, not merely the 28 pages,” the letter says.

saudiarabiamap“By all public accounts, the 28 pages focus on a very discrete set of relationships and transactions relating to Saudi support for two of the 9/11 hijackers once they were already in the United States,” the letter goes on. “While this evidence is critically important, the broader issue, and the one principally raised by our lawsuit against the Kingdom, is the extent of Saudi Arabia’s funding and patronage of al Qaeda, and role in spreading the jihadist ideology that gave rise to bin Laden’s organization during the decade leading up to the attacks.”

Efforts to obtain access to other, still-secret 9/11 information are underway. For example, the Florida Bulldog has a number of outstanding Freedom of Information requests that seek FBI and terrorism task force records about the activities of the suicide hijackers in South Florida, northern Virginia and northern New Jersey.

More recent federal documents that may shed light on 9/11 are also being sought for public disclosure.

On June 16, Florida Bulldog’s parent, Broward Bulldog Inc., sued the FBI and the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act seeking records by and about the FBI’s 9/11 Review Commission.

The Review Commission was established a decade after the 9/11 Commission to conduct an “external review” of the FBI’s performance in implementing the original commission’s recommendations and to assess new evidence. It held no public hearings and released no transcripts or documents to explain the conclusions in its March 2015 report. The commission’s members and executive director were paid by the FBI in still-secret personal services contracts.

The lawsuit seeks to obtain those records to assess the basis for reliability of the Review Commission’s findings and recommendations, notably its conclusions about a remarkable April 16, 2002 FBI report. That report, released by the FBI after the initial lawsuit was filed, reported that agents found “many connections” between the Sarasota Saudis and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

The FBI report corroborated witness statements that were the basis for a Sept. 8, 2011 story in the Florida Bulldog that first reported the story of the Sarasota Saudis, including the existence of the FBI’s investigation and the fact that the FBI never disclosed it to Congress. It was also a major embarrassment for the Bureau, flatly contradicting the FBI’s public statements that agents had found no connections between the family and the 9/11 plot.

The Review Commission concluded that the FBI report was “unsubstantiated” based on statements by unidentified FBI officials calling the report “poorly written and inaccurate.” The Commission, however, interviewed none of the independent witnesses whose accounts were corroborated by the FBI report, and did not examine why the FBI kept its Sarasota investigation secret for a decade.

Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI accused of spying on defense in Medicare fraud case

By Dan Christensen, 

Judge Cooke has set a June 8 hearing to consider alleged wrongdoing by federal prosecutors and agents.

Judge Cooke has set a June 8 hearing to consider alleged wrongdoing by federal prosecutors and agents.

In a stunning twist in a long-running Medicare fraud case, both the Miami U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI stand accused of spying on a defendant’s lawyer by illegally and secretly obtaining copies of confidential defense documents.

Court papers filed last week by attorneys for Dr. Salo Schapiro contend the secret practice was not the action of “just one rogue agent or prosecutor.” Rather, it was apparently an “office-wide policy” of both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI that’s gone on for “at least 10 years.”

The unwritten policy involves “surreptitiously copying defense counsel’s work product through the government-contracted copy service that the government requires defense counsel to use to obtain the discovery documents’’ needed to properly prepare for trial, according to court papers that seek either the dismissal of Schapiro’s indictment or the disqualification of the entire prosecution team.

Miami attorneys Howard Srebnick and Rossana Arteaga-Gomez represent Schapiro and filed the motion, which asserts that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has for several weeks been investigating itself in the matter.

Miami U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke held an initial hearing Tuesday that was continued until June 8 at 1:30 p.m. The judge, in an order, has asked both parties to respond to this extraordinary question: “What remedies, if any, are available to the court were the court to find that the described conduct in defendant Schapiro’s motion is a systemic, consistent and/or pervasive practice of or on behalf of the United States Attorney’s Office?”

A spokeswoman for Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer would not be interviewed. However, late Thursday night prosecutors filed court papers confirming that an internal probe is underway and asserting that defense arguments are “based on erroneous accusations and insinuations.”

Howard Srebnick, left, and James V. Hayes

Howard Srebnick, left, and James V. Hayes

“Despite the charged language this is not a case about intrusion into the attorney-client relationship, eavesdropping or sneaking into the defense camp,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney James V. Hayes and Justice Department fraud attorney Lisa H. Miller.

Defense attorney Srebnick did not return a phone call seeking comment.

 Specifically, the court papers allege that Fort Lauderdale-based copying service Imaging Universe and president Ignacio E. Montero provided the government with CDs containing duplicates of documents Schapiro’s defense team culled from 220 boxes of evidentiary records in preparation for trial. Federal agents had seized those records from the mental-health clinic Biscayne Milieu, where Schapiro worked.

“Covertly cloning defense counsel’s work-product to obtain a tactical advantage is nothing short of ‘shocking to the universal sense of justice’ mandated by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment,” Srebnick and Arteaga-Gomez wrote. “To the extent that the prosecution team can infer from Dr. Schapiro’s selection of discovery documents his thought process, the government has violated his Fifth Amendment right not to be compelled to be a witness against himself. This intrusion into the attorney-client relationship has also violated Dr. Schapiro’s Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.”

The government responds

The government’s Thursday night response acknowledged that Imaging Universe did supply the FBI with duplicate CDs of what the company had copied for Schapiro’s defense team, but said the discs “were never requested by any agent, prosecutor or anyone else on the government’s behalf.”

Prosecutors Hayes and Miller also stated that they were unaware of the duplicate CDs until an FBI agent disclosed their existence in late April. They said that when they found out they immediately told “Montero to stop and began an internal inquiry.”

“To date it has found that there was simply no pervasive practice of receiving or recording defense discovery, and that it was not a widespread or institutionalized practice,” says the government’s response.

Nova Southeastern University constitutional law professor Robert Jarvis was skeptical of the defense’s sensational claims, but said that if the allegations prove true it could upend hundreds of criminal cases, free untold defendants and potentially result in criminal charges against government officials responsible for violating defendants’ rights.

“This opens a huge can of worms,” Jarvis said. “It’s potentially catastrophic for the government and I would think that the [U.S.] Attorney General would be swooping in on this. There are 95 judicial districts. If it happened in this office, you have to wonder if it’s happening in any others.”

Schapiro, 70, Sonia Gallimore, 74, both Broward residents, and Marlene Cesar, 64, of Allentown, PA., were indicted on charges of health care fraud and conspiracy and making false statements in September 2014. According to the indictment, they and other alleged co-conspirators submitted more than $55 million in phony Medicare claims through the Miami clinic, Biscayne Milieu, collecting more than $11 million. Previously, about 25 other owners and employees of the clinic pleaded guilty or were convicted of healthcare fraud.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Gallimore and Cesar filed paperwork seeking dismissal of their charges, claiming their clients’ rights were similarly violated by the alleged scheme.

The defense motion says that between late 2014 and last month, Schapiro’s lawyers repeatedly visited an FBI warehouse in Miramar where discovery documents are kept for review. During Arteaga-Gomez’s first visit to the warehouse federal agents told her that if she wanted to copy any documents she would have to use Imaging Universe, the motion says.

Since the indictment, Imaging Universe has charged Schapiro $8,200 to produce nine sets of discovery documents to his defense team. The motion identifies those records to include a dozen CDs containing approximately 1,140 PDF files, many with multiple pages.

The motion contends that company president Montero “lied” to Arteaga-Gomez about the copying process, and instead of making sure the government did not see the defense’s hand-selected files, provided FBI case agent Deanne Lindsey with duplicate copies.

Montero did not respond to a detailed voicemail message seeking comment.

Prosecutor discloses FBI received defense CDs

Hayes, the federal prosecutor on Schapiro’s case, first informed Srebnick and his associate that agent Lindsey “had been surreptitiously receiving the CDs” on April 22, according to the defense motion.

“Hayes proposed to immediately destroy the CDs,” but the lawyers asked instead that he give them to the defense, “which he did,” the motion says.

Hayes declined to be interviewed about the matter.

Arteaga-Gomez phoned Montero on April 25 to ask who had told him to provide copies of the CDs to the government. Montero, the motion says, answered that an “agent” told his office manager to do it. “Mr. Montero then stated that he had been providing to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the past 10 years duplicate copies of the discovery documents selected by defense counsel in other cases.”

Montero also forwarded to Schapiro’s defense an April 21 email he sent to a healthcare-fraud paralegal in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, stating that he’d provided the Justice Department with duplicates of defense records “since 2006.” Montero added that both his old company, Xpediacopy, and Imaging Universe had done it.

If so, the alleged government misconduct spanned the administrations of three Miami U.S. Attorneys – Alex Acosta, who served from 2005-2009, Jeffrey Sloman acting U.S. Attorney from 2009-2010 and Wifredo Ferrer, who took over in May 2010.

Srebnick and Arteaga-Gomez wrote that they’ve recently had “multiple conversations” about the matter with Miami federal prosecutors and their supervisors.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has admitted that Agent Deanne Lindsey had been receiving copies of the CDs and had been keeping the duplicate CDs in a folder as she received them,” the motion says. Lindsey also “confessed to opening four of those duplicate CDs” looking for files, copying and pasting files onto her own CDs and providing “those new CDs to the government’s expert witness for trial preparation,” the motion says.

The prosecutors’ response sought to cast Lindsey’s contact with the records in less threatening way.

Prosecutors notified the defense last week that Montero had “confessed to lying to Rossana Arteaga-Gomez about the discovery process” in order to hide what was happening, the defense lawyers wrote.

“That the government-contracted copy service misled Ms. Arteaga-Gomez in order to cover-up the office-wide policy makes this case especially egregious,” the motion says.

Details about the size, terms and duration of Imaging Universe’s contract were not immediately available. The prosecutors’ response, however, said the contract is between Imaging Universe and the Government Publishing office.

28 pages and 80,000 pages: The hunt for a Saudi support network for 9-11 hijackers

By Dan Christensen, worldtradecenter

Lawyers for the Florida Bulldog have asked a federal judge to award substantial attorney fees for years of efforts to obtain secret reports about the FBI’s post-9/11 investigation of Saudis in Sarasota with apparent ties to the suicide hijackers.

The court papers filed Tuesday seek a court hearing and also show how the Fort Lauderdale Freedom of Information (FOI) case ties into a better-known push to declassify 28 pages that were cut out of a 2002 report by Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks. Those censored pages involved “specific sources of foreign support” for the hijackers while they were in the U.S.

In the Fort Lauderdale case, a federal judge is reviewing for possible public release 80,000 classified pages about 9/11 located in the FBI’s Tampa field office. Judge William J. Zloch ordered the Bureau to produce those records for his private inspection two years ago.

“In essence, the 28 pages are expected to reveal what the Joint Inquiry discovered about Saudi government support of terrorism and the Sarasota documents are expected to reveal what the Joint Inquiry failed to discover about Saudi government support for terrorism,” wrote attorney Thomas Julin, of Miami’s Hunton & Williams.

“Together, both sets of documents may reflect whether a Saudi government network throughout the United States was used to support the terrorist attacks on 9/11. They also may help the American public to judge how the defendants [Department of Justice and the FBI] reacted to the terrorist attacks on the United States and whether additional steps should have been taken to prevent the attacks and to prosecute those who may have aided the attacks,” Julin’s motion said.

The Florida Bulldog’s parent, Broward Bulldog Inc., sued the FBI and the Justice Department in September 2012 after the FBI claimed to have no records about its Sarasota investigation. The Bulldog, working with Irish author Anthony Summers and his wife, Robbyn Swan, broke the story on Sept. 8, 2011 – nearly 10 years to the day after the terrorist attacks.

A fast exit from Sarasota

The story disclosed the existence of the FBI’s probe of events surrounding Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, a young Saudi couple who abruptly moved out of their upscale home about two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind cars, clothes, furniture and other personal belongings – and how agents found evidence that Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers, who’d trained at nearby flight schools in Venice, had visited the al-Hijjis’ home.

Anoud’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to a Saudi prince, owned the home.

Likewise, the story reported that former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of the Joint Inquiry, said the FBI had kept Congress in the dark about its Sarasota investigation.

The Bulldog is a tax-exempt public charity with what Julin described as “extremely limited resources.” Its lawsuit, however, is nearly four years old, an unusually long time for a Freedom of Information Act complaint.

Miami attorney Thomas Julin

Miami attorney Thomas Julin

As a result, the news organization’s law firm, Hunton & Williams, has borne the financial burden of the case. Julin and four colleagues told the court they have spent more than 615 hours on the case and are asking for $409,000 in fees.

The fee award being sought is in large part attributable to the FBI’s aggressiveness resistance to disclosing its records about the Sarasota investigation. For example, in addition to repeatedly denying that it had any responsive documents, Bureau representatives have said the Sarasota probe found no connection to the 9/11 plot. Still, a handful of FBI documents made public during the pending litigation said the opposite: that the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to persons associated with the terrorist attacks.

In addition to representing the Bulldog in court, attorney Julin has spent numerous hours in an effort to declassify the 28 pages from the Joint Inquiry’s report. The Bulldog, Summers and Swan began the process in June 2013. Today, the case is pending before the Interagency Security Classification Appeals panel is Washington. A decision is expected this month.

The quest to unlock the 28 pages got a huge boost in an April 60 Minutes TV report that focused on current efforts by Sen. Graham and others to obtain their release.

Numerous members of Congress, 9/11 victims and their relatives and current and former government officials as well as leading presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have called for the release of the 28 pages.

Developments in the case continue. On May 17, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Justice Against Supporters of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill that would allow 9/11 victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia. The House is expected to consider the bill shortly.

“It underscores the public importance of the records that are at the heart of this litigation,” Julin wrote in his fee motion.

Click here and scroll down to FOIA Lawsuit Documents to read the new filings.

South Florida whistleblower alleges Medicare Advantage fraud

 By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity 
The entrance to the Humana headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

The entrance to the Humana headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.


Insurance giant Humana Inc., which operates some of the nation’s largest private Medicare health plans, knew for years of billing fraud at some South Florida clinics, but did little to curb the practice even though it could harm patients, a doctor alleges in a newly unsealed whistleblower lawsuit.

The suit was filed by Boynton Beach physician Mario M. Baez. It accuses Humana, and his former business partner, Dr. Isaac K. Thompson, of engaging in a lucrative billing fraud scheme that lasted years. The suit also names three other Palm Beach County doctors, two medical clinics and a doctors’ practice group as defendants. The suit was filed in October 2012, but remained under a federal court seal until Feb. 26. (more…)

Broward Health gave company with financial ties to Gov. Scott 25-year, no-bid contract

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, 

Gov. Rick Scott announces plans to seek new cancer research funds during an April 2014 visit to the Fort Myers headquarters of 21st Century Oncology, a company in which he owns an indirect financial interest. Company chief executive Dr. Daniel Dosoretz is at far right. Photo: NBC-2, WBBH Fort Myers

Gov. Rick Scott announces plans to seek new cancer research funds during an April 2014 visit to the Fort Myers headquarters of 21st Century Oncology, a company in which he owns an indirect financial interest. Company chief executive Dr. Daniel Dosoretz is at far right. Photo: NBC-2, WBBH Fort Myers

An oncology company financially connected to Gov. Rick Scott got a no-bid contract four years ago from taxpayer-supported Broward Health for as long as 25 years – an unprecedented term.

Scott was an investor in a private equity firm that owns 21st Century Oncology, state records show. The Fort Myers-based cancer care company got the contract in 2012 to supply radiation oncology services to Broward’s biggest public health system.

The value and language of the contract with 21st Century Oncology are not known. The hospital system’s lawyers denied a public records request by for a copy of the contract.

The North Broward Hospital District, Broward Health’s legal name, is and was at the time run by an all-Republican board of commissioners appointed by the governor. Gov. Scott, who took office in January 2011, is a Republican. He was re-elected in 2014.

“This is news to me,” said Commission Chairman David Di Pietro, who seemed stunned last week when told of the governor’s indirect ownership interest in 21st Century Oncology, a contract he voted to approve. “In 2012 I was unaware of that, and I have no further comment at this time.”

Broward Health awarded the contract, with an initial term of 10 years and three separate five-year renewal options, to 21st Century Oncology after deciding to outsource its day-to-day business of providing radiation treatment services for cancer patients.

“In all my years I’ve never heard of a contract for that duration, especially at a tax-supported system like Broward Health,” said Florida International University healthcare professor Sal Barbera, a former hospital CEO who blew the whistle on Medicare fraud by Tenet Healthcare Corp. in 1997.

Information about the contract is contained in publicly traded 21st Century’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the minutes of a Jan. 30, 2012 board meeting when the deal was approved in a 5-1 vote.

Financial disclosure filings by Gov. Scott indicate that at that time he owned a $210,000 indirect interest in 21st Century Oncology. The governor’s stake came via his investment in Vestar Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns 21st Century.

Spokeswoman: Scott didn’t contact district about 21st Century

“The governor and his staff have had no conversation or contact about Vestar Capital or 21st Century Oncology with the North Broward Hospital District,” Scott’s communications director Jackie Schutz said in a statement on Sunday.

Schutz also said Gov. Scott wasn’t aware 21st Century Oncology had sought the Broward Health contract prior to its award in January 2012. Likewise, she said no executives at Vestar or 21st Century asked the governor to try to influence the selection of 21st Century by the district.

21st Century co-founder and chief executive Dr. Daniel Dosoretz

21st Century co-founder and chief executive Dr. Daniel Dosoretz

Two of the commissioners who voted for the deal continue to serve on the board today, Di Pietro and Joel Gustafson. Gustafson, who was chairman the day of the vote, could not be reached for comment.

In April 2014 Gov. Scott publicly touted 21st Century Orthopedics and its chief executive and co-founder Dr. Daniel Dosoretz during a visit to the company’s Fort Myers office while pushing a 60 percent hike in state funding for cancer research, including $20 million in new state grants for companies like 21st Century Oncology. Scott signed the measure into law two months later.

“There’s something in this for us, and it’s not exactly the same as what’s in it for the University of Florida and other centers,” 21st Century Oncology Chief Medical Officer Constantine Mantz told the Naples Daily News. “But to his credit, (Scott) has thought about some of the little guys in the state…We really have not had any ability to access state funds for any of our research activities, and so this is important for us.”

Last March, Scott named 21st Century gynecologic oncologist Dr. James Orr of Bonita Springs to the Florida Board of Medicine. At the same time, the governor appointed to the board Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, the Broward Health chief executive whose Jan. 16 suicide sent shock waves through the district, and prominent Republican fundraiser and Fort Lauderdale cardiologist Dr. Zachariah Zachariah, who recently jumped to Broward Health from Holy Cross Hospital.

Details of Gov. Scott’s indirect ownership interest in 21st Century Oncology are contained in his 2010 and 2013 financial disclosure forms and documents filed by his lawyers with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, Broward Health's late chief executive

Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, Broward Health’s late chief executive

Gov. Scott keeps his assets, which his most recent disclosure form valued at $146.8 million, in a blind trust. He has had two such trusts while in office and as such maintains he has no knowledge of his investments, and thus no conflicts of interest.

While establishing Scott’s first blind trust in April 2011, his attorneys identified for the ethics commission several “passive investments” in companies that do business in Florida and are subject to state regulation. They explained that to avoid conflicts Scott was putting those assets in a blind trust modeled after the model federal blind trust and under the control of an “independent” financial professional. They asked for the commission’s blessing and it was soon granted.

In 2014, however, reported that Scott’s blind trust deviated substantially from the U.S. model and that the independent trustee was a New York investment advisory firm whose chief executive was former Scott business crony Alan Lee Bazaar.

One investment, in which Gov. Scott was said by the lawyers to play no managerial or decision-making role, was Vestar Capital Partners, 21st Century Oncology’s owner. Vestar has raised about $8 billion in capital in six equity funds since the late 1980s.

Scott’s investment in Vestar Capital Partners

“Governor Scott owns, through limited partnerships, interests in private investment partnerships in New York operated by Vestar Capital Partners,” says an April 20, 2011 letter signed by Scott’s attorneys Richard E. Coates, of Tallahassee, and James T. Fuller of Washington’s Williams & Connolly. “Governor Scott owns a 1% or less limited partnership interest in one investment fund, Vestar Capital Partners V, that has approximately $43 million in equity capital.

“Among its other investments, in 2008 this investment fund acquired a controlling interest in Radiation Therapy Services Inc. The stock of this corporation is owned by the investment fund. This corporation, based in Fort Myers, Florida, operates more than 90 radiation therapy centers in over 15 states, including Florida, under the name 21st Century Oncology,” the letter says.

Radiation Therapy Services changed its name to 21st Century Oncology in 2013.

On July 1, 2011, less than three months after his lawyers wrote to the ethics commission, Gov. Scott reported on his financial disclosure form that his assets included a $210,000 investment in Vestar Executives V, LP. The governor didn’t publicly disclose his financial assets again for nearly four years until he decided to terminate his blind trust in order to qualify to run for a second term. He disclosed, then immediately placed his assets into a new blind trust that by law affords him immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest.

That financial disclosure form, filed in June 2014, revealed that Scott continued to own about $210,000 worth of Vestar Executives V, one of a number of interconnected Vestar Capital Partners V funds.

Both Vestar Capital Partners V and Vestar Executives V are organized in the Cayman Islands, according to paperwork filed with the SEC.

Broward Health’s board approved its 2012 deal with 21st Century Oncology with only then-Commissioner Clarence McKee dissenting.

McKee “questioned why it did not go out for bid,” the minutes say. “Also, assuming that everything else goes well and Broward Health does not terminate 21st Century within the 10-year period, Commissioner McKee said that 21st Century would be getting a 25-year contract. He felt that the contract is too long and it should have gone out for bid.”

Then-CEO Frank Nask replied, “There was no requirement to do the RFP (request for proposals),” the minutes say.

In its annual report filed with the SEC last March, 21st Century Oncology described itself as “the largest integrated network of cancer treatment centers and affiliated physicians in the world.” It has grown by gobbling up a number of other treatment providers, including last summer’s buyout of South Florida Radiation Oncology and its network of treatment centers stretching from Miami-Dade to Vero Beach.

21st Century Oncology’s huge debt

To do that, however, 21st Century Oncology took on $1 billion in debt through the end of September, and continues to suffer from hundreds of millions of dollars in operating losses.

21st Century Oncology’s problems intensified in December with a U.S. Justice Department announcement that it had agreed to pay $19.75 million to settle whistleblower allegations that it had violated the False Claims Act by billing Medicare and Tricare, the U.S. military health care program, for laboratory tests that were not medically necessary.

Benjamin C. Mizer, the head of the Justice Department’s civil division, said the settlement demonstrated the government’s commitment to oppose “unscrupulous providers” of healthcare services.

21st Century Oncology’s problems have continued in 2016. In January the company announced, without explanation, that it was withdrawing an initial public stock offering that it had hoped would raise about $100 million to pay off debt.

Today, 21st Century Oncology is again in the spotlight due to Gov. Scott’s indirect investment and its extraordinarily long, no-bid contract with Broward Health. Yet the public hospital system has refused to make public a copy of that contract, citing an exemption in Florida’s public records law that protects some hospital records from competitors.

Miami attorney Thomas Julin represents the Florida Bulldog. He disagrees with the district’s decision.

“The Legislature gave public hospitals a limited amount of secrecy for small contracts that their governing boards are not required to approve,” Julin said. “Contracts that must go before the board, the big ones, must be made public a month before the vote takes place.

“The public owns these hospitals and is entitled to know how they spend the public’s money,” he said. “We’re deciding now whether to challenge in court the withholding of these records.”

Jack Nicklaus in hot water with Justice Department over filled wetlands at golf club

By Francisco Alvarado, 

The Bear's Club, co-developed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

The Bear’s Club, co-developed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus is in legal hot water with the U.S. Department of Justice over construction work his companies performed on environmentally protected wetlands at The Bear’s Club, a 369-acre private golf course community in Jupiter which the six-time Masters champion co-developed in 1999.

In a federal lawsuit filed to little notice in October, government attorneys allege four Nicklaus-owned entities filled close to an acre of wetlands in 2010 without permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to relocate a tee box, improve golfing conditions on the club’s 15th hole and make room for the development of five residential lots.

The lawsuit claims The Bear’s Club developers ignored the Corps’ denial to modify the original building permit, which included an easement agreement to set aside several acres as protected wetlands.

The Corps found out The Bear’s Club had filled the wetlands from the South Florida Water Management District on Oct. 27, 2010, the complaint states.

Federal prosecutors contend The Bear’s Club and its owners had “economic motive for seeking the modification.” The initiation fee for a golf membership at The Bear’s Club is $90,000 and the annual fee is $25,000, according to the complaint, which also named Nicklaus’ development partner Clarendon Properties Group and its owners, Ivan Charles Frederickson and Robert Whitley.

The government has asked the court to order the defendants to undertake, at their own expense and at the direction of the Army Corps, measures to mitigate the damages caused by their violations of the permit and the Clean Water Act.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice spokesman, said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Eugene Stearns, the Miami attorney for The Bear’s Club and its partners, said his clients deny the allegations.

Lawsuit ‘Puzzling’

“The lawsuit is puzzling for a number of reasons,” Stearns told “We believe it is a tempest in a teapot. We don’t believe we violated the agreement with the Corps.”

Last month Stearns filed a motion to dismiss the government’s complaint, alleging the Corps doesn’t have jurisdiction over the wetlands in dispute.

“The easement expressly provides that it can be altered or amended,” Stearns’ motion states. “It also expressly provides that the state and only the state and the South Florida Water Management District possesses the power to grant amendments. The appropriate state agency authorized the very work the Corps alleges was unlawfully undertaken.”

Nicklaus’ attorney also disputed the negative impact of filling the wetlands.

“The tee box required building a pad on a relatively small piece of wetlands,” Stearns said in an interview. “The change near the 15th hole was a result of people hitting balls into area that would get really muddy when it rained. If you go out there, you’ll see the wetland area is still very beautiful.”

In a response to Stearns’ motion, Justice Department lawyer Andrew James Doyle asserts the Corps does have jurisdiction over the wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The Bear’s Club violated the easement agreement by filling wetlands that were “not to be disturbed by any dredging, filling, land clearing, agricultural activities, or any other construction whatsoever,” Doyle wrote.

He added that wetlands “were to be preserved in perpetuity as a purely natural area.”

“Defendants filled the wetlands for the purpose of making the golf course easily playable for weaker players,” Doyle wrote.

FBI corruption probe at Broward Health allegedly blocked by hospital district’s lawyer

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, elsanadimemorial1

Broward’s Health’s general counsel failed to cooperate with the FBI, withheld evidence and protected an executive accused of attempting to rape several employees, according to an explosive e-mail sent last week by a private investigator hired by the late Dr. Nabil El Sanadi to look into alleged corruption at the public hospital system.

The email, obtained by, is from Wayne Black, a noted Miami-based investigator, and was received at Broward Health’s headquarters on Friday, just hours after El Sanadi’s memorial service. El Sanadi had been president and chief executive of taxpayer-supported Broward Health for 14 months.

Black’s email blasted Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett.

“I can no longer sit quietly while needed evidence and information is being withheld from the corruption squad at the FBI,” Black told Barrett.

Black wrote that Barrett had shut him out of “various investigations” and accused her of wrongfully asserting a claim of legal privilege to block law-enforcement access to a laptop used by a suspect executive.

“I was complaining in writing that it may appear you were potentially obstructing justice and that the FBI needed to image and take a look at the suspect’s hard drive, owned by BH (Broward Health),” he said. “I understand that even today, the FBI does not have access to that laptop. This is outrageous and the public deserves better.”

Broward Health general counsel Lynn Barrett at last weeks' board meeting

Broward Health general counsel Lynn Barrett at last weeks’ board meeting

“I also hope that after all these months, that executive’s laptop didn’t get ‘lost’ or damaged or wiped. You know very well that there is no possible attorney/client privileged information on the laptop,” Black said. “Even if there was a privilege, the DOJ/FBI has experienced taint teams to deal with any issues.”

Barrett did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email. Black declined comment because the matter is pending.

Black’s scathing email was sent to Barrett, with copies to members of Broward Health’s board of commissioners. The day it arrived, Florida’s chief inspector general also informed Broward Health that she has opened an inquiry into millions of dollars in contracts that the hospital district has awarded since July 2012.

Special meeting expected next week

Broward Health’s board is expected to hold a special meeting next week to discuss the inspector general’s investigation. No date has been set.

Black’s email explains that El Sanadi hired him in April 2015 at the direction of board chairman David Di Pietro to investigate “information and allegations of corruption at Broward Health” given to him by El Sanadi.

“I discovered the irregularities in the security RFP [request for proposals] and Nabil put a hold on the RFP process at my request. There was obvious corruption and the matter is still not resolved to this day. I later developed witnesses regarding kickbacks and other crimes and immediately referred the matter to the FBI corruption squad,” Black wrote. “We (myself and FBI agents) promised witnesses that they would not be known unless they testified. We kept that promise and will continue to do so.”

El Sanadi was informed and told Black to keep working.

“Nabil and I met several times at his home or at a local restaurant to discuss my findings as he felt his office was bugged. We used Nabil’s wife’s email to communicate most of the time because we didn’t know who would have access to sensitive emails,” Black said.

Black’s frustrations with Barrett, who was hired last summer, began shortly after her arrival when “one of your outside attorneys demanded that I turn over the names of FBI witnesses in the ongoing federal investigation. I refused, of course.”

Miami investigator Wayne Black

Miami investigator Wayne Black

The two “bumped heads” again later, Black wrote. “You had no experience with evidence handling in ongoing criminal investigations and I wrote you about that several times. Rather than turning over potential evidence to me for the FBI, your outside law firm, under some privilege argument, made copies and did their ‘privilege research,’ which I am sure, resulted in huge billings to the taxpayers of Broward County. I then wrote you that long memo about obstructing justice appearances.”

Black and Ryan Stumphauzer, a former Miami federal prosecutor working with him, asked El Sanadi “to simply make a decision on who was doing the corruption investigation internally … us or you and your Tampa law firm” – identified by Broward Health officials as Foley Lardner. “He told me it was Ryan and me but that never materialized, even after I organized an off-site meeting with Nabil and the FBI.’’

El Sanadi’s change of heart?

The email suggests a possible change of heart by El Sanadi for the corruption investigations he’d initiated.

“What Nabil promised the FBI about evidence turnover at that meeting never happened. For months, I would call Nabil and ask why the FBI still didn’t get the laptop of the suspect – he would say that the attorneys were researching something,” Black wrote.

Black continued, “Recently, much to everyone’s surprise and after the FBI contacted one suspect employee, it was decided that BH would terminate the employee and give him six months severance pay.” Black said a witness who heard about it said, “it must have been hush money.”

The former executive, identified by Broward Health officials as former purchasing boss Brian Bravo, “was bragging about getting $75,000 from BH to pay his criminal defense attorney,” Black wrote to Barrett. “I texted you and you responded you knew nothing about it. This was untrue according to Nabil. I called him immediately thereafter and he told me that you and HR [human resources] had approved the ‘settlement’ and that there was some confidentiality agreement with the former executive, now suspect.”

Black continued, “The same executive (and you were briefed about this) who according to eyewitnesses drugged and attempted to rape several employees, had sex with female employees in his office at BH, took kickbacks from vendors, created companies to sell goods to BH, had relatives working at BH in violation of policy and was generally uncooperative with internal audit in the past. And there is more from witnesses about which you were not briefed. Imagine what our cooperating witnesses must think.”

Bravo could not be reached for comment.

Black indicated that he’s surprised the FBI has yet to serve subpoenas in the case. “If this were Miami and I was still at the Public Corruption Unit and someone dragged their feet for even days, let alone months, turning over critical evidence … I would long ago [have] served a search warrant. I pray that you will take my advice just this once and immediately give that suspect’s laptop” to the FBI.

Broward Health warns doctors: sign new ethics rules or lose privileges to practice

By Dan Christensen, 

Broward Health's urgent website message to doctors and staff over the weekend

Broward Health’s urgent website message to doctors and staff over the weekend

A doctors’ rebellion at Broward Health has prompted a stern warning from the hospital district’s board that their privileges to practice at its hospitals and clinics will be suspended if they don’t agree in writing to new ethics rules.

At its regular meeting on Wednesday, Broward Health board of commissioners unanimously approved sending warning letters to doctors informing them of the consequences of failing to sign. While the letters had not been received as of Saturday, physicians were nevertheless vocal about the matter.

Some doctors refused to comply citing concern that ill-defined paperwork they’re being asked sign undercuts existing administrative safeguards that protect their interests and assure due process in disputes. Many complied reluctantly.

Dr. Louis Yogel, chief of staff at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, said in an interview that many physicians had expressed “reservations” about the various written certifications required of them, “but for the most part there is an understanding that this has been thrust upon us and we have to do it.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Yogel told commissioners that a few intransigent doctors might even sue. “The last thing this place needs is lawsuits from doctors,” he said.

By Friday afternoon, however, Yogel said most, if not all, of Broward Health’s doctors had now signed.

Still, urgency about the situation persisted through the weekend on Broward Health’s website where physicians and non-physician practitioners were urged to print out and sign several “Mandatory – OVERDUE” certifications.

Broward Health surgeon Dr. Nicholas Tranakas, left, and Broward Health Medical Center Dr. Louis Yogel

Broward Health surgeon Dr. Nicholas Tranakas, left, and Broward Health Medical Center Dr. Louis Yogel

One doctor holdout who capitulated Friday is Dr. Nicholas Tranakas, Broward Health’s medical director for cancer services. He said his concerns remain, but he decided to sign the necessary certifications out of concern for his patients.

“I had to put my patients in front of my principles at this point,” Tranakas said on Saturday. “This week alone I have four ladies under 35 with diagnoses of breast cancer.” He did not rule out filing suit if Broward Health fails to address his continuing concerns.

In an interview Thursday, Tranakas discussed those concerns.

“I don’t have the exact numbers, but quite a few physicians are taken aback about how this was proposed. The main concern is … the statement that we accept the consequences for not following the policies and procedures. It’s vague,” Tranakas said.


The dispute erupted publicly at last week’s meeting of Broward Health’s board of commissioners – a session focused chiefly on mourning the Jan. 23 death of Broward Health president and CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi.

El Sanadi, 60, fatally shot himself in the chest in a lobby-floor bathroom at his Lauderdale-by-the-Sea condominium. Police said El Sanadi left no goodbye note, and bereaved friends and colleagues have been at a loss to explain the suicide of a dedicated physician and leader they said gave no hint of inner turmoil.

In September, El Sanadi helped negotiate a $69.5-million civil settlement of federal whistleblower allegations that for more than a decade Broward Health had participated in an illegal scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid by paying illegal kickbacks to doctors who referred patients to its hospitals.

As part of the deal, the U.S. Justice Department also required the North Broward Hospital District – Broward Health’s legal name – to sign a “Corporate Integrity Agreement” that imposed new duties to monitor and disclose the district’s financial arrangements with doctors and vendors, develop a new Code of Conduct and establish ethics training for board members, administrators and doctors.

The agreement requires individuals who attend training to certify in writing that they have done so. As part of the district’s compliance effort, Broward Health’s lawyers drew up several certifications doctors are being requiring to sign.

Dr. Tranakas’s specific problem continues to be a requirement that doctors certify that they are aware that failure to comply with the Code of Conduct or district policies and procedures “may result in a number of consequences including but not limited to termination.”

While Broward Health board chairman David Di Pietro, an attorney, likened signing off on such language to signing off on the conditions for an iTunes download, Tranakas saw it differently.

“The government said you have to educate the entire staff, including physicians, on what policy and conduct should be. I don’t think the government told them what punishment is going to be,” said Tranakas. “My point is who is going to dole out those consequences? There already is a process in place … What you are signing doesn’t give you any indication of what the consequences are and who will enforce them.”

On Saturday, Tranakas said what comes next will “depend on how much the board is willing to work with the medical staff attorney to make this right.”

The medical staff attorney, who represents physicians and others in internal matters, is Fort Lauderdale’s Amy Galloway. She declined to comment.

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