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Trustee for Universal Health Care bankruptcy in for long haul

Published Apr. 27, 2013

Soneet Kapila dug deep to recoup some of the hundreds of millions lost in the Ponzi scheme of disgraced Orlando boy band producer Lou Pearlman.

He's tried to get money for creditors caught up in the troubled $2.9 billion Fontaine-bleau Las Vegas casino-resort.

Up next: sifting through the wreckage of Universal Health Care Group, the one-time $1.5 billion St. Petersburg-based insurer that crashed last month, leaving more than 800 jobless and thousands of Medicare enrollees scrambling for new coverage.

Kapila, 60, was appointed this week as trustee for the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the parent company of Universal Health Care's operations in St. Petersburg.

The Fort Lauderdale CPA and bankruptcy trustee veteran talked with the Tampa Bay Times about the job ahead, including going after the third-party managed care company run by Universal founder Akshay Desai to help pay back creditors.

Here are some excerpts:

What early conclusions have you drawn about how much Universal owes and how much can be recovered?

It's very premature to know that. I got appointed on Monday and (Thursday) was my first day on the project. Needless to say, there are a lot of moving parts and I've been inundated in trying to talk … to multiple parties to assess the case.

One of the first things I did was meet with the state of Florida receiver for (Universal's Florida operations). My goal is to work in tandem with them. I've developed a similar dialogue with Texas (insurance regulators). They have named a receiver now. And Nevada's the third state where there will be a receiver.

Right now my priority is to understand all the moving parts and the players and try to preserve assets.

What's your role?

The unique thing here is I've been appointed trustee of Universal Health Care Group Inc., the holding company of various businesses. So my bankruptcy (role) is limited to the holding company and my (list of creditors) may not be identical to the creditor body for the various subsidiaries whether they are in state receivership or not.

The corporate structure here has a management company (American Managed Care), which served as a lateral services company. That was the hub of the banking activity. That company, though, is not in bankruptcy and not part of any receivership. It's called a non-debtor corporation.

Do you have authority to go after that third-party company to pay creditors?

I believe I do.

One needs to investigate all the transactions to see where the money was flowing. (American Managed Care) is the hub. All the health care companies were receiving their revenue from the CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) and then they paid the management company. The managed care company become the group treasurer. … Most of the hard tangible personal property is in the management company.

The state has accused Universal management with fraud, embezzlement and diversion of funds. What financial mismanagement have you uncovered so far?

I cannot point to anything because I have not investigated it deeply enough to comment. It'll be a few weeks before my first report. This is a pretty complex bankruptcy.

How does this compare to some of your other cases through the years?

It rates on the high end of the complexity related to my other high-profile cases.

Do you see any parallels between this and the Lou Pearlman bankruptcy?

No, I don't. (They) are apples and oranges. The Pearlman case was driven by a Ponzi scheme. With this case, I've just entered the door and I'm not able to comment yet on any wrongdoing.

Lou Pearlman's $300 million Ponzi scheme blew up more than six years ago. Where do you stand in recovering assets and distributing money back to creditors?

It's coming together nicely. I'm in the final litigation stages. We are prepared to make a distribution at the right time.

The state and FBI have ongoing investigations into Universal Health Care's management. How does that affect your job?

The FBI (which raided Universal's headquarters last month) may have taken (files) that will help my investigation. I'm cooperating with them on any grand jury and working in collaboration to recover assets.

We (the state and the trustee's office) both have an objective to maximize value for all the creditors. We've discussed where we have commonality of interest. We don't want to double up and waste resources.

So how long will this process take?

It'll be long. I will need to investigate … any potential assets that can be recovered by any litigation. That requires a fair amount of investigation. We will receive that initial (assessment) over the next weeks, maybe months, and do an analysis of any recovery actions.

When will we reach the end game with creditors getting something back?

If the investigation continues over the next few months and we can (begin) any litigation … you can look at two to three years. Hopefully shorter. I'd like to be more optimistic.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8242.

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