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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact: Did Rick Scott invoke the Fifth Amendment 75 times?

The Florida Democratic Party launched its first TV ad this year in the governor's race and the subject is a familiar one: the investigation into Republican Gov. Rick Scott's former health care company.

"Maybe you've heard about what was the largest Medicare fraud in history, committed when Rick Scott was a CEO," the narrator says. "Or that Scott's company paid record fraud fines of $1.7 billion. And when Scott was deposed in lawsuits about his company, he took the Fifth 75 times. Meaning, 75 times, Scott refused to answer questions because — if he had — he might admit to committing a crime."

The ad launched last week and is airing in Tampa Bay.

Here we will fact-check whether Scott took the Fifth Amendment 75 times.

The backstory

Scott started his hospital company, Columbia, in 1987 by purchasing two El Paso, Texas, hospitals. He quickly grew the company into one of the country's largest publicly traded hospital chains, and in 1994, merged Columbia with Tennessee-headquartered HCA.

In early 1997, federal agents revealed they were investigating the Columbia/HCA chain for, among other things, Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Allegations included that Columbia/HCA billed Medicare and Medicaid for tests that were not necessary or ordered by physicians, and that the hospital chain would perform one type of medical test but bill the federal government for a more expensive test or procedure. Agents seized records from facilities across the country including in Florida.

Scott resigned in July 1997. Scott said he wanted to fight the federal government accusations, but the corporate board of Columbia/HCA wanted to settle. In 2000, the company pleaded guilty to at least 14 corporate felonies and agreed to pay $840 million in criminal fines and civil damages and penalties.

The government settled a second series of similar claims with Columbia/HCA in 2002 for an additional $881 million. The total for the two fines was $1.7 billion.

Scott's deposition

Scott gave a deposition in 2000 in which he invoked the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 75 times. The amendment reads in part that no one "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

But that deposition was not part of the criminal fraud case being pursued by the federal government. In fact, Scott was never officially questioned during the federal criminal investigation.

The deposition was part of a civil case in which Nevada Communications Corp. alleged that Columbia/HCA breached the terms of a communications contract.

Scott gave the deposition at his offices in Stamford, Conn., on July 27, 2000, months before the settlement with the federal government.

The deposition shows that Scott repeatedly refused to answer questions. Scott's lawyer first interjected after an opposing lawyer began the deposition by asking simply if Scott was employed.

"Under normal circumstances, Mr. Scott would be pleased to answer that question and other questions that you pose today," Scott's lawyer, Steven Steinbach, said. "Unfortunately because of the pendency of a number of criminal investigations relating to Columbia around the country, he's going to follow my advice, out of prudence, to assert his constitutional privilege against giving testimony against himself."

Scott then went on to read the same answer, even when asked if Scott is a current or former employee of Columbia/HCA — "Upon advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the questions by asserting my rights and privileges under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

During a Univision debate in October 2010, Scott was asked about the deposition: "With regard to that deposition, that was years after I left HCA. It was just, you know, all the same trial lawyers that are supporting my opponent, they were doing a fishing expedition, and they sat there, you know, it was a case I knew nothing about, I was not involved, I was not a defendant. So to stop the fishing expedition I just didn't do it."

Our ruling

The Florida Democratic Party's TV ad states that when Rick Scott "was deposed in lawsuits about his company, he took the Fifth 75 times."

Democrats don't specify that the deposition was from a civil business case — not the federal government's criminal fraud investigation into Columbia/HCA. But Scott used the Fifth Amendment due to that federal investigation.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

FPO

The statement

When Rick Scott "was deposed in lawsuits about his company, he took the Fifth 75 times."

Florida Democractic Party, June 17, in a TV ad

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly True

Scott did invoke the Fifth Amendment 75 times — in a civil case related to a breached communications contract, not a federal investigation into Medicare and Medicaid fraud. That background isn't clear from the ad. As such, we rate the claim Mostly True.

PolitiFact: Did Rick Scott invoke the Fifth Amendment 75 times? 06/22/14 [Last modified: Sunday, June 22, 2014 7:49pm]
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