The federal government recovered some $4 billion in fiscal 2010 from people who tried to defraud Medicare and Medicaid, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli announced Monday.
In releasing the results of an annual report, the officials cited the Justice Department and HHS led-Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) in May 2009 and the accomplishments of the teams located throughout seven cities that enforced Medicare fraud recovery efforts. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010, the teams imprisoned 146 defendants and indicted 140 individuals involving charges filed against 284 defendants who collectively billed Medicare more than $590 million.
DOJ opened more than 2,000 criminal and civil health care fraud investigations, the highest number initiated in a single year, according to Perrelli.
An example of those recoveries was the Astra Zeneca case. In April 2010, Astra Zeneca LP and its subsidiary paid $520 million to resolve false claims act allegations that they illegally marketed the anti-psychotic drug Seroquell for uses not approved as safe and effective by the FDA.
DOJ alleged that between 2001 and 2006, Astra Zeneca promoted Seroquell to psychiatrists and doctors for certain uses not approved as safe and effective including Alzheimer’s disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, depression and other conditions.
From day one, President Barack Obama has made it clear that particularly in these difficult financial times, eliminating fraud, waste and abuse can’t be the job of one agency or department; it needs to be the focus of every single one of us in government, Sebelius said.
HHS also announced new rules authorized by the Affordable Care Act that will aim to proactively prevent and fight fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The new rules will create a screening process for providers and suppliers in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP to keep fraudulent providers out of the programs; require a new enrollment process that will mandate states to screen Medicaid and CHIP providers; the power to temporarily stop enrollment of potentially high-risk, new providers and suppliers; and the power to temporarily stop payments to providers and suppliers in cases of suspected fraud.
Perrelli and Sebelius were joined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Donald Berwick, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division Kevin Perkins, Deputy HHS Inspector General Gerald Roy and Executive Director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud Dennis Jay.
Eleven years after the government pledged to begin storing nuclear waste for commercial nuclear plants, the Department of Energy decided to scrap its planned repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada — leaving the Justice Department with dozens of lawsuits on its hands.
Michael Hertz, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, told lawmakers on the House Budget Committee Tuesday that the government may be liable for billions of dollars if it doesn’t follow through on its promise to build a disposal site to store nuclear waste.
“DOE’s most recent estimate of potential liability … was as much as $13.1 billion,” Hertz said. “This estimate does not fully account for the government’s defenses or the possibility that plaintiffs will not be able to prove the full extent of their claims, and they were created before the administration’s 2009 announcement that it would not proceed to build a repository at Yucca Mountain.”
Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the government agreed to collect and store nuclear waste from nuclear energy companies beginning in 1998. The next year, it entered into 76 contracts — most with commercial entities — to accept quarterly payments in exchange for waste disposal.
But the government has yet to accept any waste from nuclear companies, and that delay has led 72 utility companies to file suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims for partial breach of contract.
The DOJ’s Civil Division has been defending the government in those cases, Hertz said, but with the Yucca Mountain plans stalled, there’s no end in sight.
“Until we begin performing under the contract, until we begin picking up waste … we will keep incurring damages,” Hertz said.
Litigation costs for the government — which currently stand at $29 million in attorney costs, $111 million in expert funds and $52 million in litigation support — will continue to compound because utilities companies must file new cases every six years to comply with the statute of limitations, Hertz said.
And these cases could even extend until after the Department of Energy starts accepting waste, now projected for 2020, Hertz said.
In addition, the government has already accepted $2 billion in liability for judgments and settlements entered between 1998 and 2009. The amount could change as cases are appealed or remanded, he added.
Barring settlements, the number of cases brought against the government could also increase as additional damages accrue, Hertz said.
The majority of cases involve damages claimed by utility companies, but several plaintiffs have also filed lawsuits that attempt to reverse the Energy Department’s decision to abandon Yucca Mountain. South Carolina and Washington state are among those now contesting Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s authority to withdraw the repository’s licensing application in In Re Aiken County.
Undersecretary of Energy Kristina Johnson defended the administration’s decision to withdraw from Yucca and instead form a blue ribbon commission to investigate alternatives.
The commission would examine scientific advancements in the understanding of nuclear waste and provide a draft of solutions in about a year, with a final report due six months after that, Johnson said.
“Yucca Mountain, as a site, is off the table,” Johnson said.
The Energy Department’s latest analysis (pdf) of the Yucca Mountain project, issued in July 2008, estimated the lifetime cost at $96 billion.
“I’m deeply troubled — very troubled — by this,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.). “It is irresponsible to abandon the study of Yucca Mountain as a viable option, particularly after $100 billion has already been spend on the project.”
Hertz’s full testimony is embedded below:
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Attorney General Holder Delivers Remarks at the Installation of Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno Washington, D.C. ~ Friday, March 5, 2010
Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to join with so many colleagues and friends, and some very proud family members, as we celebrate this milestone in Ignacia Moreno ’s distinguished career. I know that Ignacia ’s family had to work around a couple of unexpected snow storms to be here, and we’re honored to have you all with us. I also want to thank my former colleague and good friend Judge Ricardo Urbina and Dennis Zotigh for participating in today ’s ceremony and helping us mark this very special, and very happy, occasion.
It’s my privilege to welcome Ignacia back to the Department of Justice.
I have no doubt that she will fulfill her new responsibilities with the same energy, integrity, and dedication that characterized her prior service. And I ’m grateful that she has enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to lead our Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Ignacia has the experience and broad perspective necessary to lead this work. She shares this Administration ’s strong commitment to environmental justice. And she was instrumental in developing and implementing the Department’s strategy to fulfill President Clinton’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice. In doing so, I assure you she did more than sit behind a desk drafting policy statements. In fact, she personally engaged in federal and state efforts to address pollution communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. She spent time in these areas. And she succeeded in improving access to safe drinking water for these residents.
Today, Ignacia stands ready to build on those achievements and to reinvigorate the Department’s commitment to environmental justice. Under her leadership, I know our Environment and Natural Resources Division will redouble its efforts to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are not disproportionately burdened by environmental and health hazards, and that these communities will be encouraged to participate in making local environmental decisions.
She’s shown outstanding leadership and initiative in forging partnerships across the administration, particularly with our colleagues at the Department of the Interior. And I’m heartened that she often points to the tribal values she’s observed – the philosophy that “our purpose on this Earth is to protect this Earth” – as guideposts for the work she now leads.
Although Ignacia has a deep understanding of regional concerns, she also brings a global perspective to addressing environmental challenges. During the Clinton Administration, she helped to develop this Department ’s international outreach efforts, recognizing that our most pressing environmental problems often require global solutions. In particular, she forged partnerships with our closest neighbors – Mexico and Canada – and helped to launch enforcement initiatives to reduce transboundary pollution. In the months ahead, I know that our Environment and Natural Resources Division will be a strong partner in the administration’s efforts to engage the international community in addressing climate change and other global environmental issues.
Ignacia, I congratulate you on your appointment. I thank you for your service to this department, to the American people, and to future generations who’ll inherit the world we now share. I look forward to continuing our work together.
Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Department of Justice’s Black History Month Celebration Washington, D.C. ~ Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Thank you, Charles [Cephas]. I appreciate your kind words, and I’m grateful to you and your colleagues in the Department’s Justice Management Division for your work in organizing today’s celebration. It’s good to be among so many friends and colleagues. And it’s an honor to join you in welcoming Dr. [Freeman] Hrabowski, one of our nation’s most distinguished academic leaders, to the Justice Department.
This morning, I’m especially delighted to welcome so many students here. I want to thank the Spingarn Senior High School JROTC Color Guard for their presentation. You did a great job. Let me also say how wonderful it is to have the Howard University Choir with us, filling our Great Hall with such glorious music. Thank you all for sharing your gifts with us and making this celebration so special.
Today, as we commemorate Black History Month, we strengthen an important American tradition. For more than half a century, Americans have been coming together each February – or, when “snowmageddon” strikes, in early March – to reflect on how far our nation and, especially, our African-American communities have traveled on the long road toward equality and freedom.
For well over two centuries now, we, as a people, have been striving to build a more perfect union – an America where the words of our Constitution can, finally, reach the full measure of their intent. The work of the Justice Department is, and always has been, critical to this pursuit. As a law student and as a young prosecutor in our Public Integrity Section, I dreamed of contributing to this Department. Today, as Attorney General, I have the honor and responsibility of leading it. I also have the privilege of serving with colleagues who share my commitment to this work. Like you, I have great faith in our justice system. In fact, I’d argue that it’s among the most praiseworthy aspects of our national character. But I also realize this hasn’t always been the case.
Despite the great progress we’ve seen in my lifetime, it wasn’t so long ago that African Americans were prevented from owning property, attaining home or business loans, and joining unions. The legal framework we celebrate today – the same system that abolished slavery, encouraged women’s suffrage and ended segregation – once served as a barrier for black families struggling to build wealth and for black children who sought an adequate education.
There was a time when this very Department undermined the rights and privileges it was established to preserve. There was a time when it was accepted, almost universally across our country, that the American principles of justice, liberty and equality did not have to be applied equally to blacks and whites, or to women and men. For much of the last century, our justice system did not do enough to help our nation fulfill its promise of equal opportunity. And, as a result, the doors of economic prosperity remained closed to too many Americans on the basis of their race.
This year’s Black History Month theme, “The History of Black Economic Empowerment,” calls us to examine this past. It also challenges us to acknowledge that racial divisions and disparities continue to persist. This unfortunate truth is, perhaps, most evident when looking at the current state of our economy.
Today, we have faced the most serious financial crisis in generations. America’s manufacturing output has slumped. Our financial markets have lost tremendous value. Consumer spending and confidence have declined. Home values have decreased. Though we have made significant progress in combating the ills associated with the Great Recession, much work remains to be done. And it will be done.
In many ways, this recession has been an equal-opportunity offender, affecting Americans of all racial and ethnic groups, classes and ages — and closing off both blue- and white-collar job prospects.
But we know that some communities and demographic groups have been hit harder than others. Today, joblessness for young black men, those between the ages of 16 and 24, is higher than national averages and has reached proportions not seen since the Great Depression. And young black women of the same age now have an unemployment rate of more that 26 percent. This is particularly troubling when you consider that the unemployment rate for all 16-to-24-year-old women is about 15 percent.
These economic disparities will have long-term consequences for us all. And they should concern every one of us. We must not allow this generation of our young people, especially young African Americans, to become the first generation in decades to not keep up with or exceed their parents’ standard of living. That’s why this Justice Department, as part of our reinvigorated commitment to strengthening civil rights, is working to safeguard our markets, to combat financial crimes and to restore the opportunities necessary to rebuild our economy. This work is essential. And we all have a role to play in advancing it.
Today’s economic challenges have signaled that, despite the progress we’ve made in creating a more equal nation, we have much work ahead of us. It may be tempting – when you look at the diversity of people working in this building and walking the halls of Congress or at the man sitting in the Oval Office – to think that equality has been achieved for all Americans. We have made tremendous progress as a nation. But it will take more than the election of the first African-American President to conform our present reality with our founding idealism. And it will certainly take more than the appointment of the first African-American Attorney General to build a nation that always embodies our highest principles and contains our best selves.
That said, I have great hope for our future. Time after time, the American people have proven that we will not become victims of, chained to, a sometimes painful history. We cannot allow our past to haunt us. Instead, we must use it to hasten our work and press us further toward justice and through new doorways of economic opportunity.
We now stand at the beginning of a new decade. And we all have the chance to help write a new chapter in the history of this country. We’ve arrived at this moment together, and we will overcome our shared challenges as one people. But how? Some have asked. How can we achieve a future consistent with our dreams and worthy of our founding documents?
By summoning the lessons of the past. By standing together in days of struggle and uncertainty. And by inspiring each other to dream of and work for a more inclusive, more just, and more perfect union.
I am confident that the Justice Department we serve will strengthen and sustain this effort – indeed, will lead it. And I’m honored to count you as partners in this work and proud to call you my colleagues in the struggle to build the most perfect Union.
Score one for the good guys (and bad guy).
A federal appeals court sided with the Department of Justice Tuesday, ruling that the DOJ does not have to reveal the location of a former hit-man who is now in federal witness protection, The Blog of Legal Times reported.
In the 1970s Michael Vernon Townley, an American citizen, worked as a member of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s intelligence service. In 1976, he pleaded guilty in U.S. court to taking part in the murder of former Chilean ambassador to the U.S. Orlando Letelier in a famous D.C. car bombing and was sentenced to five years in prison. After serving his time, Townley entered the federal Witness Protection Service.
After entering protective service, Townley was implicated in the murder of another diplomat, Carmelo Soria Espinoza. In 2002, Espinoza’s widow, Laura Gonzales-Vera, filed a lawsuit against Townley seeking damages for the death of her husband. Townley defaulted and Gonzales-Vera was awarded $7 million.
According to the Department of Justice, the director of the Witness Protection Service reviewed Townley’s finances and found he could pay $75 a week. Gonzales-Vera rejected the agreement, and according to her lawyers, has been unable to collect the money from Townley since the judgment in 2005.
Gonzales-Vera filed a second lawsuit against Townley and the U.S. attorney general, arguing that the DOJ was shielding Townley from paying his debt and requesting that a guardian be appointed to review Townley’s finances and create a payment plan.
In court papers, the DOJ argued that it had taken the “reasonable efforts” required by law to ensure Townley paid the judgment: they had offered the $75-a-week plan and also warned Townley that should he not pay, his new identity and location might be divulged.
On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. ruled in favor of the DOJ.
“[We] think it clear that Congress intended to make guardianship available only where the Attorney General finds that the protected person is failing to make reasonable efforts — that is, only where disclosure to a guardian is necessary to enforce the judgment,” the opinion reads. “We realize this leaves Gonzalez-Vera, though dissatisfied with Townley’s efforts to pay, without a remedy in these proceedings.”
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Ahead of tomorrow’s first anniversary of President Obama signing into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — otherwise known as the economic stimulus package – a project from ProPublica says that the Justice Department has spent 37 percent of the more than $4 billion it was given and is processing an additional 61 percent. Just $35.6 million of the funds are still left to be allocated, according to ProPublica.
Here are DOJ’s numbers:
Spent (37 percent) – $1.499 billion
In Process (61 percent) – $2.467.4 billion
Left To Spend (less than 1 percent) – $35.6 million.
The DOJ’s percentage of funds either spent or in process was a larger percentage than all but one of the 27 departments and agencies studied by ProPublica. Only the National Endowment for the Arts — which has allocated all of its $50 million — reported a larger percentage.
The average for the 27 entities showed that 30 percent had been spent and an additional 26 percent was in process.
The act provided $2.7 billion to the Office of Justice Programs; $1 billion to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program; $225 million to the Office on Violence Against Women; and $10 million to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to the Justice Department.
As part of a “road tour” of Obama administration officials touting the stimulus package, Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday will attend the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Commencement Ceremony in Charlotte, reports The Washington Post. Police officers hired through the COPS Hiring Recovery Program will be graduating at the ceremony.
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The massive snowstorm that dumped nearly two feet of snow in the nation’s capital over the weekend closed the Justice Department and all federal government offices in Washington on Monday.
Sidewalks and streets around Justice Department headquarters at 9th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW were mostly passable. But the storm partially shut down the Metro train system which many DOJ employees use to get to work.
At least one tree on the south side of building, formally known as the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, came down under the weight of the snow on its branches. Security guards at the Justice Department were still clearing snow off the top of their booths Monday afternoon.
On Friday Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to receive the Medal for Excellence from Columbia Law School, his alma mater. But his trip to New York was canceled because of the weather. Holder conveyed his regrets through a professor at the event.
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger lauded Holder for his long career in public service, according to Columbia.
“Has there ever been an attorney general given more controversies to solve and a department more in need of leadership and respect?” Bollinger said. He also praised President Barack Obama and Holder for what he called not sacrificing constitutional rights to fight crime and terrorism.
“In Eric Holder, we have an Attorney General of the United States who is not afraid of the hard, principled path to the pursuit of justice, the defense of our security, and the fulfillment of our founding ideals,” said Bollinger.
Holder did, however, make it to a Super Bowl party at the White House on Sunday, along with other Cabinet officials and members of Congress.
A series of photos of the main Justice Department building post-snowstorm are placed below.
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President Obama on Friday nominated John Laub (University of Illinois-Chicago, State University of New York – Albany) to head the Institute of Justice, the Justice Department’s research and development branch. Laub is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland at College Park, and was a 2005 recipient of the Edwin H. Sutherland Award from the American Society of Criminology.
Laub has an extensive background in the field of criminology. Before taking a faculty position at UMD, Laub taught criminal justice courses at the University of Massachusetts in Boston from 1981 to 1998, edited the Journal of Quantitative Criminology for five years and published two books on criminology. From 2002 to 2008, Laub sat on the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academies of Science.
The National Institute of Justice, created in 1969, takes a research-based approach to law enforcement, partnering with state and local policymakers to, as the agency’s Web site says, “create scientific, relevant, and reliable knowledge — with a particular emphasis on terrorism, violent crime, drugs and crime, cost-effectiveness, and community-based efforts — to enhance the administration of justice and public safety.”
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The recent decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate possible violations by the CIA of anti-torture laws adds to the growing body of evidence that President Obama’s Department of Justice might not be responsible enough to care for the nation’s security, Dick Cheney said in a statement released to The Weekly Standard on Monday. The former vice president also termed the probe a “political” investigation.
In the statement, Cheney said:
The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush Administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel, and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House, serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this Administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.
DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
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New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s (D) running mate “continued to insinuate” an improper relationship between Republican challenger Chris Christie and members of the U.S. Attorney’s office Christie formerly headed, PolitickerNJ reported.
Specifically, prosecutor Michele Brown should be removed from any involvement fulfilling a Corzine Freedom of Information Act request about the office, the governor’s running mate, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, has said, the politics blog reported Friday.
On Monday, Christie revealed that while he was U.S. Attorney he loaned Brown — the No. 4 person in the U.S. Attorney’s office and supervised by Christie — $46,000. In addition, he said he’d failed to disclose the loan on his tax returns and financial disclosure forms. He called the omissions an oversight.
Six months ago, the Corzine campaign filed FOIA requests related to Christie’s time in the office, a request which has yet to be fulfilled. Daily Kos reported that Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) on Thursday said that earlier this year, Christie bragged about “having” U.S. Attorneys in Newark, N.J. at his disposal. Pallone’s comment prompted the Corzine camp to file an administrative challenge seeking to enforce the office’s compliance with its FOIA obligations.
Corzine’s top adviser Tom Shea on Thursday filed the challenges with the Department of Justice, PolitickerNJ reported. Under the act, agencies must respond to FIOA requests within 20 days. However, requests do not need to be completed within this time.
PolitickerNJ reported that Weinberg on Friday said: “Based on what we already know and on today’s report by the Associated Press that Christie is refusing to answer who he’s still in contact with at the U.S. attorney’s office and how informed he is about day-to-day activities there, we are simply saying we need someone not caught up in this controversy to work on the FOIA requests.”
The Christie campaign on Thursday responded in a statement criticizing the Corzine campaign for “[n]ot only … accus[ing] the Obama administration’s Department of Justice of being ineffective and unresponsive,” but for “fail[ing] to see the irony of their righteous indignation over the timely release of internal personal communications.” The Newark Star-Leger reported that Corzine refused to release email communications between himself and former state workers union leader Carla Katz, his ex-girlfriend, as talks regarding a state workers’ contact began.
Earlier this week, acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, who has been dealing with his own ethics issues, said Corzine’s request was delayed because it requires sorting through a lot of records. In addition, he said that “Michele [Brown] is not in charge of the process;” however, last week he said that Brown is playing a role in fulfilling the request, as some of the documents requested relate to her travel expenses and cases.