Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Lawyers for WellCare defendants ask if 60 Minutes influenced verdict

TAMPA — Jurors in the WellCare fraud trial deliberated for more than three weeks before issuing mixed verdicts against four former executives in June.

Now the defendants want a federal judge to summon those jurors and ask them an unusual question: Did they catch that 60 Minutes episode on health care fraud?

On June 9, CBS ran an old 60 Minutes episode about fraud allegations at hospital chain Health Management Associates. It wasn't exactly a memorable night in television history. But in newly filed documents in federal court, attorneys for the four executives say the report "may have influenced some or all of the jurors' consideration of the evidence and tainted the verdict ultimately rendered."

The segment, called "The Cost of Admissions," was about allegations from HMA doctors that the chain had pressured them to admit patients regardless of their medical needs. It made no mention of WellCare, the Tampa managed-care company that handles services for a large number of Medicaid patients.

Defense lawyers note in their July 31 filings that the episode included an interview with HMA senior vice president Alan Levine, whose name may have been known to jurors because of his former position as head of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration during the period WellCare was accused of ripping off the Medicaid program. Levine's name was mentioned during the trial, though he never testified.

The 60 Minutes report focused on "the economic costs of health care fraud and the impact of inflated and mischaracterized billing submissions to the government," the lawyers wrote.

On June 10, the jury found former chief executive officer Todd S. Farha, former chief financial officer Paul L. Behrens and former vice president William Kale guilty of two counts of health care fraud for submitting false expenditure reports to the state Medicaid program. The jury also found Behrens guilty of two other charges of making false statements related to health care matters.

A fourth defendant, former vice president Peter E. Clay, was found guilty of making false statements to federal agents.

On May 23, the jury had sent a note to the judge saying they were deadlocked on all counts, but they were told to keep trying. "The sudden progress and announcement of a verdict less than 18 hours after the episode aired compels (the defendants) to ask the court to interview the jurors to determine whether any of them viewed the episode or was made aware of its content," the defense team wrote.

Contact Jodie Tillman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.

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