Thursday, February 22, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County changed contract cited for possible kickbacks in ambulance whistle-blower lawsuit

Pinellas County discontinued a provision in its contract with ambulance company Paramedics Plus in 2015 that a federal whistle-blower has alleged could be used for kickbacks.

In 2014, former Paramedics Plus executive Stephen Dean filed the whistle-blower lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas. It was recently unsealed by a judge in January. The federal lawsuit alleges that the Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services Authority and ambulance authorities in California and Oklahoma engaged in an illegal kickback scheme with Paramedics Plus. That is the parent company of Sunstar Paramedics, which operates the ambulance service in Pinellas County.

Dean's lawsuit said the kickbacks were referred to as "rebates," "gain sharing" and "profits in excess of a cap." They came from Paramedics Plus' portion of what it collected from government health care programs and was "paid directly to the ambulance authorities," the lawsuit said. In Pinellas County, Dean's suit alleged that there were kickbacks given to the ambulance authority when "profits exceeded 9 percent annually."

However, records obtained by the Times show there was a one-time payment of $35,600 made to a county EMS account in 2014. But the provision was removed from the new ambulance agreement in 2015. County officials declined this week to comment on the lawsuit.

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