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WellCare hires new top legal adviser

Five months after an FBI raid on its Tampa headquarters, WellCare Health Plans Inc. recruited a former federal prosecutor specializing in government settlements as its top legal adviser.

Thomas F. O'Neil III of DLA Piper in New York City will join the managed-care company in April as its general counsel.

A 1982 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, O'Neil, 50, has been a partner and co-chair of the firm's group advising businesses under government investigation. According to DLA Piper's Web site, O'Neil "has resolved numerous civil and enforcement actions charging violation of, among other things, the Medicare and Medicaid programs."

O'Neil's background will come in handy at WellCare, a provider of Medicare and Medicaid managed-care plans, which is the focus of ongoing state and federal investigations. Though the exact nature of the scrutiny has not been disclosed, court documents suggest prosecutors are looking at WellCare's Medicaid plan in Florida, particularly its mental health subsidiary. WellCare, which has 2.3-million members nationwide, said it is cooperating fully with the government.

O'Neil succeeds Thaddeus Bereday, who was forced out in January along with WellCare chief executive Todd Farha and chief financial officer Paul Behrens.

Heath Schiesser was immediately named to replace Farha; a replacement for Behrens has not yet been named.

Before joining DLA Piper, O'Neil was chief litigation counsel at MCI Communications Corp. Early in his career, he spent three years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland.

Though O'Neil's salary at WellCare was not disclosed, the company said he will receive nonqualified stock options to purchase 100,000 shares over a 10-year term, as well as 50,000 restricted shares of WellCare stock.

WellCare's shares moved up slightly on news of O'Neil's hire, closing Monday at $44.65 per share, up 77 cents. The company's stock has been edging up slowly after plummeting from more than $128 a share to about $20 a share after news of the investigation became public in late October.

Thomas A. Carroll, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus in St. Louis, was cautious about reading too much into WellCare's latest personnel appointment.

"Here's a seemingly educated, smart, well-qualified person deciding to take this potentially risky job, and I'm sure he did his due diligence," said Carroll, who has a neutral rating on WellCare. "Whatever he saw illustrated the company's ability to get through this (investigation).''

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Kris Hundley can be reached at

hundley@sptimes.com or

(727) 892-2996.

WellCare hires new top legal adviser 03/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 10, 2008 9:24pm]
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