PHILADELPHIA – Three lawsuits in Philadelphia are part of an effort by plaintiffs lawyers and shell companies to abuse federal law while pursuing millions of dollars for whistleblowers, the U.S. Department of Justice is alleging.
In December, the DOJ asked federal judges around the country to dismiss 11 False Claims Act lawsuits. More than one-quarter of those cases, which target health care companies, are in Philadelphia federal court.
These area law firms filed the cases and will now respond to the DOJ’s motions: Anapol Weiss in Philadelphia; Geyer Gorey in Cinnaminson, N.J.; Florio Perrucci in Phillipsburg, N.J.; Joseph Trautwein & Associates in Blue Bell; and Youman & Caputo in Newtown Square.
On December 17, the DOJ filed motions to dismiss qui tam (whistleblower) lawsuits brought by Health Choice Group and other companies represented by high-profile plaintiffs lawyers.
The DOJ says these plaintiffs were created for the sole purpose of filing suit under the federal False Claims Act and is complaining that it spent hundreds of hours investigating these kickback allegations only to find no merit to them.
“Having completed its investigation, and finding the allegations to lack sufficient merit to justify the cost of investigation and prosecution and otherwise be contrary to the public interest, the United States now seeks to dismiss these actions,” the motions state.
The FCA is a law that allows whistleblowers to sue companies that allegedly overcharge the federal government for certain services and products, most commonly involving Medicaid and Medicare. Once a whistleblower files its suit, the federal government and eligible states have the option to join the plaintiff in prosecuting the action.
The whistleblower, for its efforts, is entitled to a substantial percentage of any recovery.
For example, the entity represented by Anapol Weiss is called NHCATev. It filed its lawsuit in May 2017 under the federal FCA and similar state statutes against Teva Pharmaceutical.
Teva paid tens of millions of dollars to employ specialists and nurses who unlawfully provided services to prescribers in exchange for recommendations of its multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone, the lawsuit claims.
Thus, Medicare and Medicaid have paid for Copaxone prescriptions that were tainted by kickbacks, it is alleged.
But the DOJ says that isn’t the case and that it wasted 1,500 hours investigating the claims.
The plaintiff companies are formed by National Health Care Analysis Group, which is itself a pseudonym for a partnership comprised of limited liability companies set up by investors and former Wall Street investment bankers, the DOJ said in its motions.
The partnership, acting through shell company relators, filed 11 separate qui tam complaints in seven jurisdictions against a total of 38 different defendants for essentially the same alleged conduct, the DOJ says.
Described as a “big-data entrepreneur,” NHCA managing agent John Mininno recalled that when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made available to the public vast amounts of Medicare claims data, he viewed it as “a massive business opportunity,” specifically with regard to whistleblower suits.
Backed by a “Wall Street angel investor,” NHCA Group was established.
In order to obtain information for its qui tam business, NHCA Group created a database of resumes, “scraped and extracted from publicly-available sources,” which the organization used to identify “potential informants,” the motion states.
NHCA Group then contacted the individuals under the guise of conducting a “research study” of the pharmaceutical industry, offering to pay them to participate in what it called a “qualitative research study," the DOJ says.
However, the information was actually being collected for use in qui tam complaints filed by the NHCA Group through its pseudonymous limited liability companies, the DOJ says.
“On its website, NHCA Group makes no mention of its role behind dozens of qui tam actions, instead holding itself out to the public as a ‘healthcare research company that engages in qualitative research of pharmaceutical and other healthcare-related industries,’” the motion states.
In the case against Teva, Anapol Weiss is scheduled to respond by Jan. 21 to the motion to dismiss.
The case filed by the New Jersey lawyers targeted EMD Serono, Pfizer, Quintiles IMS Holdings, RXC Acquisition Company. In it, an amended complaint was filed two weeks after the DOJ’s motion, though proceedings on it appear to be stayed until Judge Timothy Savage decides the DOJ motion.
The lawsuit by Trautwein and Youman & Caputo names Accredo, Amgen and Ashfield Healthcare as defendants. Nothing has been submitted to the court since the DOJ motion.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in Texas, Illinois, Washington and Massachusetts. Among the highest-profile law firms pursuing them are the Lanier Law Firm of Texas and Beasley Allen of Alabama.