Attorney General Pam Bondi removes two top Medicaid fraud investigators

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Pam Bondi demoted the head of her Medicaid fraud investigative unit and fired another top staffer this week, citing reports of poor leadership and employee discontent.

Patrick Kelly, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit's chief of law enforcement investigations, was fired Wednesday. Unit director David Lewis was also removed from his position, though he will continue to work in the Attorney General's Office.

The personnel changes are the result of a "strategic review" that pinpointed Kelly and Lewis as the source of many of the unit's issues, though neither was accused of any wrongdoing.

"I believed that the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit could perform much better, and I requested a thorough review of the unit," Bondi said in an email Thursday. "The results of the review confirmed that changes needed to be made in order to ensure that the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit serves Floridians as well as possible."

The review, dated Feb. 13, concluded that "a culture of passive aggressive management exists at the top" of the unit. It singled out Lewis and Kelly, saying their management styles lead staff to fear retribution for speaking up.

The report also said there were too many positions left vacant, inadequate training, poor coordination with the Agency for Health Care Administration and ongoing discontent in the unit's Miami office, its busiest.

Reviewers also accused Kelly of tampering with the investigation by calling staff members prior to their interviews with the review team. The report suggested that both Kelly and Lewis be replaced.

Lewis, 56, could not be reached for comment. Kelly, 55, said he was brought in by former Attorney General Bill McCollum as a "change agent," which made him unpopular at times.

"Anytime you change an organization there are some people who are uncomfortable," he said.

Oscar Gelpi, who was previously assigned to the Fort Lauderdale branch of the Office of Statewide Prosecution, will serve as interim director of the Medicaid fraud unit, which has eight offices. The division investigates and prosecutes cases regarding the misuse of Medicaid funds, corruption, or abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities.

Although the Medicaid fraud unit has been credited with recovering hundreds of millions of dollars, management concerns have also plagued the division over the years.

Kelly and Lewis were among four employees suspended without pay in 2009, after they were accused of drinking "sips of whiskey" at a state-run police academy during working hours. Kelly was also accused of using his state-issued vehicle improperly.

That was before Lewis was promoted to the top position, where he made $105,000 annually. Kelly's salary was $95,000.

The unit's productivity became a campaign issue during the 2010 gubernatorial race, as Democrat Alex Sink pointed out that the number of prosecutions had dropped under McCollum.

Bob Butterworth, who served as attorney general from 1987 to 2002, was accused of ignoring or botching major Medicaid fraud cases because he allowed the unit to focus on individual patients who bilked the system instead of corporations. Butterworth took over Medicaid fraud investigations from the state Auditor General's office in 1994.

At one point, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put the fraud office on probation, saying the state had done too little to root out major cases.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Attorney General Pam Bondi removes two top Medicaid fraud investigators 03/15/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 16, 2012 10:27am]

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