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WellCare whistle-blower closer to settling long-running fraud case

The U.S. Justice Department's long-running fraud case against WellCare Health Plans of Tampa finally may be drawing to a close.

This week, the lead whistle-blower against WellCare withdrew his objections and said he would join the government's $137.5 million settlement with the company after months of claiming it was too low.

Barry Cohen, the Tampa lawyer representing whistle-blower Sean Hellein, said he's just waiting for the government to approve a compromise that gives his client a bonus. Hellein, a WellCare executive who wore wiretaps at company meetings for the FBI, will share, with three other whistle-blowers, in the $137.5 million civil settlement, receiving up to 25 percent of the total.

He will be the sole whistle-blower rewarded from part of a previous settlement WellCare paid to resolve criminal charges.

"We're pleased with the development and look forward to the final resolution of this matter," said Denise Malecki, a WellCare spokeswoman.

The company, which had $6.1 billion in revenue last year, provides managed-care plans for 2.4 million people on Medicare and Medicaid.

In mid 2006, Hellein, then a senior financial analyst with WellCare, secretly recorded executives discussing ways to double bill for patient services. WellCare was required to spend a certain percent of the government's money on care or refund the difference.

Based on Hellein's information, the FBI raided WellCare's Tampa headquarters in October 2007. In 2009, WellCare settled criminal charges by paying an $80 million fine. In 2010, it agreed to pay $200 million to settle a shareholders' class-action lawsuit.

Federal criminal charges are still pending against three former WellCare executives, Todd Farha, Paul Behrens and Thaddeus Bereday, with trial scheduled for next year.

Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission also sued the three men for insider trading and fraud.

WellCare's stock price, which skyrocketed 74 percent last year, closed Friday at $71.13, up $4.02. The settlement, which Hellein has not yet signed, calls for WellCare to pay an additional $35 million if there is a "change in control" at the company within the next three years.

Kris Hundley can be reached at khundley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996.

WellCare whistle-blower closer to settling long-running fraud case 02/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 10:06pm]
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