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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Medicare Strike Force Moving After New Targets

Law.com discusses some of the new geographic targets for the Medicare Strike Force as well as providing a summary of their success in Miami.  Julie Kay writes.

After winning almost all of its cases, the U.S. Department of Justice's Medicare strike force is preparing to move out of Miami and on to the next bastions of Medicare fraud, Los Angeles and then Houston, where it is sure to be greeted with a mixture of pleasure and concern by the defense bars there.

The Medicare strike force set up shop in Miami in March 2007. The plan was to bring a batch of quick cases in seven months, then move on to the next region. Miami was chosen because law enforcement officials consider it ground zero for Medicare fraud. In Miami, an estimated $2 billion is stolen annually from Medicare. The majority of the fraud is billing for nonexistent durable medical equipment and unnecessary infusion therapy for AIDS patients.

With $2 million in funding from both DOJ and the Miami U.S. attorney's office, the strike force was initially staffed by two Miami and two DOJ prosecutors. But the group did so well that seven DOJ prosecutors came down to help.  In Miami, the strike force garnered 90 guilty pleas and 10 convictions out of 120 cases. One client was acquitted, one trial ended in a mistrial, one client died, 13 are fugitives and four are awaiting trial. In the seven-month period, 120 defendants were indicted for allegedly committing $420 million in fraud. Ninety of the defendants pleaded guilty and 10 went to trial so far. A few trials remain. More importantly, though, Medicare billing dropped off in Miami by $1.4 billion during the previous year.

The strike force's conviction rate is an impressive 99.3%. The Miami U.S. attorney's office was so pleased with the results that when the joint strike force ended its run, the office made it permanent, staffed internally. . . .

The strike force's arrival did not go unnoticed by the Miami criminal defense bar. While some attorneys appreciate the business, some take issue with the strike force's tactics.  Jose Quinon, a Miami criminal defense lawyer and solo practitioner, argues that the strike force uses "over-the-top aggressive tactics." For example, he said it files cases on easily proven charges and then throws the kitchen sink at defendants at sentencing.  "You indict someone for spitting on the sidewalk and then at the sentencing hearing, you say, 'We're going to electrocute you,' " he said. . . . .

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