Make us your home page
Instagram

Lawyer wants Florida Attorney General McCollum disqualified from WellCare whistle-blower settlement

The lawyer for the lead whistle-blower in the U.S. Justice Department's civil lawsuit against WellCare Health Plans Inc. has asked Florida's Supreme Court to disqualify state Attorney General Bill McCollum from signing off on a proposed $137.5 million settlement.

Tampa's Barry Cohen filed the unusual motion — the first of its kind — on behalf of his client, Sean Hellein, a former senior financial analyst at WellCare. Cohen says McCollum failed to investigate more than $400 million in fraud by WellCare against Florida's Medicaid program due to "irreconcilable conflicts of interest."

Cohen hopes to delay Florida's approval of the Justice Department agreement until a new attorney general takes office.

Tampa-based WellCare contributed $2.6 million to the state's Republican Party and Republican candidates from February 2004 through May 2007, making it the largest single private political donor to state Republicans. The company gave $9,000 to McCollum in 2006, but Cohen says the attorney general benefited from nearly $1 million more in WellCare donations funneled through the Republican Party. "It's legalized bribery," Cohen said.

In his petition to Florida's Supreme Court, Cohen also cites McCollum's failure to fight a bill that allowed WellCare to spend less on patient care.

The legislation, which would have dropped the requirement that Medicaid HMOs spend at least 80 percent of their state funding on members' mental health services, passed in 2007 but was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. If the requirement had been dropped, WellCare could have kept $23 million in excess profit it had hidden from the state.

Responding to Cohen's petition, McCollum spokesman Ryan Wiggins said, "We are awaiting direction from the court."

Cohen is pressing for a higher settlement from WellCare, saying federal prosecutors have failed to thoroughly investigate his client's fraud claims. Hellein began cooperating with federal investigators in 2006, gathering information while wearing microphones and cameras as a WellCare employee.

The proposed settlement is pending before U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. in Tampa.

In late October 2007, the FBI raided WellCare's headquarters on Henderson Road. In the aftermath, the company's top three executives resigned, and WellCare paid $80 million to settle corporate criminal charges. A federal criminal investigation against individuals is continuing; one mid-level executive has pleaded guilty to a fraud charge and is awaiting sentencing.

Kris Hundley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996.

Lawyer wants Florida Attorney General McCollum disqualified from WellCare whistle-blower settlement 10/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 9:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. One of the best places for investing in a rental house is in Tampa Bay

    Real Estate

    Two Tampa Bay ZIP Codes are drawing national attention.

    . If you're looking to invest in a house to rent out, few places are better than  ZIP Code 34607 in Hernando County's Spring Hill area, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
[LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Times
 file photo]

  2. Tampa Chamber of Commerce announces small business winners

    Business

    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected the winners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Awards at a ceremony Wednesday night at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. More than 600 attendees celebrated the accomplishments of Tampa Bay's small business community.

    Vincent Cassidy, president and CEO of Majesty Title Services, was named Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

  3. International array of artists chosen as finalists for pier project

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — A diverse group of six artists will compete for a chance to install their work at the city's multimillion-dollar Pier District, expected to open in early 2019.

  4. Gourmet food fight between top chefs raises $200,000

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG — The chefs came armed with their secret ingredients — pork rinds, truffle butter, pork bellies.

    (From left to right) Chefs Ryan Mitchell, Michael Buttacavoli, Ted Dorsey and Matthew Brennan compete during Tampa Bay Food Fight at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event features chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefitted Metropolitan Ministries. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  5. HSN star Joy Mangano promotes new book: Inventing Joy

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than 30 years, Joy Mangano knows a thing or two about promoting products. Now she's promoting herself.

    Inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano is releasing her first new book, Inventing Joy on Nov. 7. [TIERRA SMITH | Times]