Attorney General Bill McCollum blasted by Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen over Wellcare lawsuit

October 6th, 2010 by Staff

Tampa, Florida — The attorney for the Wellcare whistle blower is asking the Florida Supreme Court to disqualify Attorney General Bill McCollum from making any decisions involving the proposed multi-million dollar settlement in the case.

“He’s got no business representing the people of this state in this agreement with Wellcare,” said Barry Cohen, who is representing whistle blower, Sean Hellein.

The Florida Attorney General must approve the pending $137.5 million settlment that stems from a False Claims Act lawsuit filed on behalf of the U.S. government.

Cohen claims McCollum’s financial ties to Wellcare. He went through a list of contributions by Wellcare to McCollum, the Republican Party of Florida and other Republican leaders between 2002 and 2007.

“It’s called legal bribery,” said Cohen.

He also blasted McCollum for failing to investigate how much Wellcare allegedly stole from the state, which his client estimates exceeds $400 million.

“You can’t expect them to bite the hand that feeds them. In the meantime, the people keep getting screwed over and over,” said Cohen.

McCollum is not commenting on the case. However, an office spokeswoman released this statement to 10 News: “We are waiting on further direction from the court.”

The whistle blower in this case, Sean Hellein, worked as a top level financial analyst.

When he noticed the corruption within the company, he says he made the decision to go to the FBI.

“We would sit in a room and think about the leadership’s bonuses and the literal conversation would be, ‘Look, if we could shoot these people, no one cares about them, but we can’t shoot them can we,” said Hellein.

For 18 months, Hellein helped the FBI and Department of Justice uncover the fraud by providing documents, emails and wearing a bug and camera to document conversations.

“It’s disgusting,” he said of what was going on.

Wellcare entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and was ordered to pay $40 million in restitution and $40 million in forfeiture according to a Department of Justice news release in 2009.

The DOJ says the scheme to defraud Florida’s Medicaid and Healthy Kids program from 2002-2006 involved over fraudulently inflating expenditures so it would not have to return money through the 80/20 Law.

The 80/20 arrangement allows health care programs to keep 15-20 percent of the money it gets to cover overhead costs. However, the rest must be spent on patient care.

Any money that’s not spent on patient care must then be returned to the state.

Cohen and Hellein say Wellcare found itself in a $23 million hole and tried to get the law struck by legislators.

It almost happened, until it was vetoed by Governor Charlie Crist.

“Did he say to the citizens of this state, who he is supposed to protect, ‘Hey, that’s not right?’ Hell no, he didn’t do that and why didn’t he? Because he’s going to run for re-election, next time he wants to be governor,” said Cohen.

While the $137.5 million settlement is still pending, Hellein and Cohen don’t think it’s enough, claiming it will still allow Wellcare to keep up to two-thirds of what they say it stole from taxpayers.

The men stand to gain financially from the settlement, with Hellein slated to get up to a 25 percent cut.

Cohen admits they’ll make money, but said the purpose of the continued fight is for the benefit of the people.

“We’re going to make a difference. We’re going to put a stop to this foolishness,” said Cohen of the alleged political favors and legislative quid pro quo surrounding this case.

He told 10 News he’s going to keep fighting to ensure the people behind the fraudulent claims made to Florida’s Medicaid system are held accountable and the taxpayers get the money they’re due.

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