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Corruption

Opinion | New name, same (alleged) corruption at HealthSouth

Josh Moon

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The name might be different but the corruption is the same for HealthSouth/Encompass. 

Last week, the Department of Justice announced that it had reached an agreement with Encompass — which was used to be named HealthSouth before it changed its name to shirk off the stink of massive fraud under former CEO Richard Scrushy — to settle three lawsuits brought by whistleblowers who alleged massive Medicare/Medicaid fraud. 

The final bill: $48 million. 

Encompass CEO Mark Tarr, of course, called this all a money saving move, proclaimed that the company did nothing wrong and chastised the federal government for a prolonged investigation that ultimately revealed no wrongdoing. 

Mmmmhmmm. 

I suppose that argument works for all of the people who won’t bother to check on the origin of this case and the three lawsuits which brought it about. Because those whistleblower lawsuits weren’t filed by rubes who thought something might be amiss. 

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They were filed by two doctors working in Encompass facilities in Sarasota, Fla., and Richmond, Va., and the director of therapy operations at an Encompass facility in Arlington, Tx. 

And the three tell remarkably similar stories of how HealthSouth/Encompass executives pressured them and other employees to break the law, violate Medicare/Medicaid rules, lie about patients’ diagnoses and fabricate patient charts. 

These practices, the three estimated, cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus fees paid out to HealthSouth/Encompass facilities over the span of a few years. 

And if you think this alleged fraud was carried out simply through sly accounting tricks, oh no. There were some of those, but the majority of the fraud spanned from the obvious to the downright comically obvious. 

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For example, in his complaint, Dr. Emese Simon, who was a contract physician at the Encompass facility in Sarasota, said he witnessed such things as the kitchen staff at the facility providing group therapy sessions — for which Encompass billed Medicare the full cost of “individual therapy sessions.” 

Simon also described in detail how patients who clearly failed to meet the basic admission standards were admitted anyway. In one case, a man paralyzed from the waist down due to an inoperable cancerous tumor on his spine was admitted for therapy for his lower extremities that he obviously couldn’t participate in.     

At any given time, Simon said in his complaint, more than two-thirds of the patients in the Sarasota facility didn’t meet the standards for care under Medicare guidelines. 

But we paid out $1,000 per day per patient for them. A conservative estimate during the years Simon worked for the facility: $84 million. 

That was one facility. 

In Richmond, where Dr. Darius Clarke was the medical director at an Encompass Facility, the higher-ups within the company had to get more involved, according to Clarke’s lawsuit, because the director refused to go along with their schemes. 

That left HealthSouth/Encompass execs seeking “second opinions” in order to admit patients who failed to meet Medicare standards. 

Clarke said he witnessed HealthSouth/Encompass execs exert pressure on staff and others to admit patients and to also keep patients in the facilities for longer than necessary, often overriding his and other doctors’ recommendations. 

The goal was twofold for Encompass executives — they obviously enjoyed raking in $1,000 per patient per day, but by falsifying the reasons for admissions, as was claimed in the lawsuits, they also maintained a desired rating as an inpatient rehabilitation facility within Medicare. Such a qualification meant they could charge top dollar for their services. 

This, of course, is where the true fraud in Medicare/Medicaid disbursements is. It would take a thousand fake-claim individuals working a lifetime to rack up a few million in improper payouts. But one company at just a few of its facilities — that we know about — can haul in millions of dollars per week. 

All of it paid for by the American taxpayer. All of it feeding the bottom line and a bloated stock price. 

And even when they get caught, they just fork over $48 million — about half of the alleged fraud that occurred at ONE facility — change the name and move right along. 

Only one thing remains constant, it seems: The corruption.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Corruption

State Rep: Lee County DA’s past cases should be reviewed by AG, DOJ

Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, wants the AG’s office or DOJ to examine all of the DA’s previous cases for similar issues.

Josh Moon

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Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes

A state representative from Lee County is calling on the Alabama attorney general’s office and the Department of Justice to open an investigation into past cases handled by indicted Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes. 

Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, said that in light of the details regarding Hughes’ indictment and arrest, he wants the AG’s office or DOJ to examine all of Hughes’s previous cases for similar issues. Gray also wants the public to be allowed to come forward if they were ever extorted or mistreated by Hughes. 

“In light of the very serious and disturbing charges facing Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes, and the brazen nature of his alleged crimes in which he used the power of his office to extort vulnerable citizens — including by threatening them with bogus charges — I call on the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the US Department of Justice to open an inquiry into possible other instances in which Hughes misused the power of his office against the people of Lee County,” Gray said in a statement. “That investigation should include a thorough review of all convictions and indictments procured by Hughes and should allow the people of Lee County an opportunity to report any additional instances of Hughes misusing his office.”

Hughes was charged on Monday with seven felony ethics counts, including allegedly using a DA’s subpoena to steal a pickup truck and using another subpoena to allegedly coerce a private business into aiding his defense. Hughes was also accused of hiring private attorneys with public money to benefit himself and his wife, and accused of hiring his three children to work in his office. 

He was arrested Monday afternoon on felony perjury charges for lying to a grand jury about his alleged crimes.

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Corruption

Lee County DA arrested on second perjury charge

The arrest was based on a complaint filed by Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office, charging him with first-degree perjury.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes — who was arrested Sunday on seven counts of ethics violations, theft and perjury — was arrested again on Monday for an additional perjury charge, according to the Alabama attorney general’s office. 

Hughes on Monday was booked in Montgomery County jail based on a complaint filed by Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office, charging him with an additional count of first-degree perjury for allegedly giving false testimony to the Alabama Ethics Commission. 

Hughes was previously indicted on five counts of violating the state ethics act for using his office for personal gain, including paying private attorneys with public funds to settle a matter that benefited himself and his wife, according to Marshall’s office. He was also charged with illegally hiring his three children to work for his office. 

The grand jury also indicted Hughes on a charge of illegally using his office for personal benefit by issuing a district attorney’s subpoena to a private business to gather evidence for his defense to potential criminal charges, according to the statement. 

Hughes was also charged with conspiracy for allegedly agreeing with others to steal a 1985 Ford Ranger pickup truck from a Chambers County business by using a Lee County search warrant to force the business to release possession of the truck, according to the statement. 

The five violations of the state ethics law charged in the indictment are Class B felonies, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. The charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree theft and first-degree perjury are Class C felonies, each punishable by one year and one day to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

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Lee County DA Brandon Hughes indicted on 7 counts of ethics violations, theft and perjury

The attorney general’s office said Hughes was indicted by a Lee County grand jury on ethics, theft and perjury charges.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Monday announced the indictment of Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughs on multiple charges. 

Marshall’s office in a statement said Hughes was indicted by a Lee County grand jury on ethics, theft and perjury charges. Hughes turned himself in to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday and was released on bond. 

Hughes indictments include five counts of violating the state ethics act for using his office for personal gain, including paying private attorneys with public funds to settle a matter that benefited himself and his wife, according to Marshall’s office. He is also charged with illegally hiring his three children to work for his office. 

The grand jury also indicted Hughes on a charge of illegally using his office for personal benefit by issuing a district attorney’s subpoena to a private business to gather evidence for his defense to potential criminal charges, according to the statement. 

Hughes was also charged with conspiring to steal a pickup truck for allegedly agreeing with others to steal the truck from a Chambers County business by using a Lee County search warrant to force the business to release possession of the 1985 Ford Ranger, according to the statement. 

Hughes is also charged with first-degree perjury for providing false testimony to the special grand jury, according to Marshall’s office. 

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The five violations of the state ethics act charged in the indictment are Class B felonies, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. The charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree theft and first-degree perjury are Class C felonies, each punishable by one year and one day to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

In September, Hughes was named prosecutor of the year by the victims’ advocacy organization Victims of Crime and Leniency. He was elected as Lee County district attorney in 2016.

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Corruption

Prosecution accepts misdemeanor plea in high-profile environmental administrator’s case 

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Almost two years ago, Trump administration EPA Region 4 Administrator Onis “Trey” Glenn III was charged with more than a dozen state felony ethics violations. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution.

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

According to a statement from the Ethics Commission at the time, Glenn, along with former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips, was charged after a Jefferson County grand jury returned indictments against the two on Nov. 9, 2018, according to a statement from the Ethics Commission.

Rather than moving forward with the case, prosecutors dropped the felony charges against Glenn. They opted to reach an agreement to accept a plea on three counts of “unintentional” violations of the ethics code. Glenn received a two-year suspended sentence for his actions.

“In the interest of efficiency, we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to resolve this matter,” Glenn’s attorney Matt Hart told APR when reached for comment. “My client pleaded to unintentional, misdemeanor violations of the ethics law, and the matter is concluded.”

Questions surround the prosecution’s decision to settle the case for a confession to minor offensives in such a high profile case. Still, from the beginning, the case was marred by allegations that the Alabama Ethics Commission’s lawyers had mishandled the investigation and indictments.

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Indictments against Glenn and Phillips were reported by AL.com even before the pair was arrested or served with the indictments. In AL.com’s report, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said that then-Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help indict the two men.

As first reported by APR, shortly after Glenn and Phillips’ indictments, Albritton and his team’s actions raised serious questions about the process that led to charges against the two men. APR reported that Albritton and Ethics Commission lawyer Cynthia Propst Raulston approached Anderton, and he did not request help with the case from the commission, as was reported in AL.com.

Later, APR confirmed that the Ethics Commission approached Anderton, contradicting Albritton’s public statement. In a sworn statement given on Feb. 9, 2019, Anderton said it was Ethics Commission lawyers who approached him, as first reported by APR in November of last year.

According to Anderton, in the fall of 2018, Propst Raulston approached him because “she had a case she wanted to present to the Jefferson County Grand Jury.”

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He further states, “I told Ms. Raulston that I would facilitate her appearance before the grand jury but that my office did not have the resources to support her case. I also told her that she would have to prosecute the case herself.”

These and other aberrations came into sharper focus when Hart — the state’s most famous prosecutor of his generation turned defense attorney — began diving into the particulars of the prosecution’s case.

Glenn’s defense argued from the start that procedural process was circumvented when Albritton and Propst Raulston took the complaint directly to a grand jury rather than the Ethics Commission as prescribed by the Legislature.

An ethics commissioner told APR privately that the commission was never informed about a complaint against the two men, nor was the investigation.

According to internal sources, actions taken by Albritton and Propst Raulston created turmoil at the commission and raised a question about who would prosecute the case on the state’s behalf.

During the process, Albritton, Propst Raulston, and other attorneys for the commission asked the attorney general’s office to take over the case; however, according to sources within the office, the AG turned them down after a review found “statutory problems” with how the case against Glenn and Phillips was handled.

In a motion to dismiss, the defense said, “In sum, the Ethics Commission Staff trampled Mr. Glenn’s rights in obtaining the indictment without giving him his required notice and an opportunity to be heard as required by the Alabama Ethics Act, and then after indictment denied him notice as guaranteed by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and failed to protect his presumption of innocence as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

While not explicitly noted in the motion to dismiss, the relationship between environmental group GASP and the prosecution was a subject that would have been heard in the hearing on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Immediately following Glenn and Phillips’ indictment, GASP posted a celebratory tweet, even taking credit for the indictment.

Former GASP director Stacie Propst is the sister of Ethics Commission lawyer Propst Raulston who presented the case to the Jefferson County grand jury.

While many in the environmental community celebrated Glenn’s indictment, the defense argued the prosecution took an illegal short cut to indict him, which denied Glenn due process and amounted to selective and vindictive prosecution.

Monday’s plea agreement ended the two-year drama without further exposure as to what happened behind the scene. Phillips’s case is still pending.

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