New lawsuit contends that the promissory notes Holmes allegedly issued on behalf of defunct clinical laboratory company Theranos are now overdue
Just weeks before Elizabeth Holmes is scheduled to begin her prison term for conviction in the federal investor fraud case related to now-defunct clinical laboratory company Theranos, the long-running legal saga of the former company founder/CEO continues to bring new twists.
This time, news emerged via a lawsuit that Holmes allegedly owes $25 million to Theranos creditors. CNBC obtained a copy of the suit and detailed its contents in a March 17 case update.
Theranos ABC, a company set up on behalf of the creditors, alleged in the lawsuit that “Holmes has not made any payments on account of any of the promissory notes,” CNBC reported. The suit was filed in Superior Court of California Count of Santa Clara.
Elizabeth Holmes (above), founder and former CEO of clinical laboratory company Theranos with husband Billy Evans of Evans Hotels. Holmes lives with Evans and the couple’s two children in the area near San Jose, California. Holmes gave birth to her second baby in February, according to People. In January, Holmes was convicted on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. In addition to restitution, Holmes has been ordered to spend up to 11 years and three months in prison. (Photo copyright: Axios.)
Holmes Allegedly Issued Three Promissory Notes
The complaint stated that Holmes allegedly executed the following three promissory notes while she was still CEO at Theranos:
August 2011 in the amount of $9,159,333.65.
December 2011 in the amount of $7,578,575.52.
December 2013 in the amount of $9,129,991.10.
A promissory note is a written promise to pay a party a certain sum of money with a specified due date for the repayment of principal and interest.
“Theranos ABC has demanded payment of promissory note one and promissory note two from Holmes, but Holmes has failed to pay any amounts on account of promissory note,” according to the lawsuit, CNBC reported. The first two notes are overdue, and the third note is due in December.
Elizabeth Holmes’ Prison Term Could Be Delayed
News of the lawsuit, which was filed in December 2022, came to light at a court hearing on March 17. During that hearing, Judge Edward Davila heard arguments about whether Holmes should remain free pending her appeal. She is otherwise scheduled to report to prison on April 27 to begin her sentence after being convicted in January 2022 of defrauding Theranos investors.
Davila, who oversaw Holmes’ criminal case, is expected to issue a decision about her freedom during the appeal early this month. The judge is also weighing options for Holmes to pay restitution to her victims.
Prosecutors have asked that she pay back $878 million to Theranos’ former investors and other victims, according to court records reviewed by Dark Daily. The government has argued in court papers that Holmes continues to live a wealthy lifestyle despite her claiming she has no meaningful assets since the collapse of Theranos and her trial.
“Defendant has lived on an estate for over a year where, based upon the monthly cash flow statement defendant provided to the US Probation Office, monthly expenses exceed $13,000 per month,” according to court documents filed by prosecutors ahead of the March 17 hearing. “Defendant asserted that her partner pays the monthly bills rather than her but also listed her significant other’s salary as ‘$0.’”
Holmes’ attorneys argued that the government cannot take an “all or nothing” approach to restitution, and that payments should only be made to investors who testified during the trial, the Associated Press reported.
“The chance of full recovery is very low,” the DOJ notes. “Many defendants will not have sufficient assets to repay their victims. Many defendants owe very large amounts of restitution to a large number of victims. In federal cases, restitution in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars is not unusual. While defendants may make partial payments toward the full restitution owed, it is rare that defendants are able to fully pay the entire restitution amount owed.”
Clinical laboratory professionals will note the irony that one of the biggest convicted fraudsters in US history is now largely attempting to avoid punishments associated with her crimes. If Judge Davila agrees to let Holmes remain free pending her appeal, she could stay out of prison for years and perhaps not have to pay restitution for that length of time as well.
The coming weeks will prove to be pivotal in the final outcome of the case.
Novel scheme by medical laboratory company to induce patients to collect and return their own specimen for testing is central to a federal whistleblower case alleging violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute
Handing out gift cards only to patients who return a specimen to a clinical laboratory company for colorectal cancer screening is a unique approach that is now at the center of a federal qui tamcase filed by a retired Indiana pathologist.
The defendant in this whistleblower lawsuit is Exact Sciences Laboratories and its parent company Exact Sciences Corporation (NASDAQ:EXAS). Last month, a federal judge ruled the court case will proceed following attempts by the defendant’s attorneys to have the case dismissed.
The plaintiffs (United States of America ex rel. Niles Rosen, MD) allege Exact Sciences Laboratories violated the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and False Claims Act by offering $75 gift cards to induce patients to return self-collected fecal samples for the lab’s Cologuard at-home colon cancer screening kit through its Patient Compliance Program.
Exact Sciences refuted the allegations and moved to have the case dismissed claiming it “had a good faith belief that its [Patient Compliance Program] complied with the law and thus lacked the requisite intent for a violation of the AKS,” according to court documents. The court denied Exact Sciences’ motion to dismiss.
“We are grateful for the hard work and courage of those private citizens who bring evidence of fraud to the Department’s attention, often putting at risk their careers and reputations,” said Brian Boynton, JD (above), Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Division in a February 7, 2023, DOJ statement. “Our ability to protect citizens and taxpayer funds continues to benefit greatly from their actions.” Clinical laboratory managers will want to follow this and other qui tam cases claiming violation of anti-kickback laws. (Photo copyright: Department of Justice.)
Was Exact Sciences’ Patient Compliance Program a Kickback?
Cologuard is a non-invasive testing kit utilized by people to screen for colorectal cancer in the privacy of their own homes. It is intended for those over the age of 45 who are at low or average risk for the disease. Exact Sciences regularly runs television advertisements urging individuals to be screened for colorectal cancer using the Cologuard test.
Following a physician’s order, and after receiving the testing kit in the mail, individuals collect a stool sample using the specimen container in the kit and return the sample to Exact Sciences Laboratories (ESL) for analysis. The test works by looking for certain DNA markers and blood in the stool sample.
According to Report on Medicare Compliance from the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA), in 2017, a gastroenterologist ordered the Cologuard kit for Rosen, the whistleblower, but Rosen chose not to return a stool sample to ESL. A few months later, ESL sent Rosen a letter offering him a $75 Visa gift card if he performed the at-home specimen collection and then returned it to ESL by March 22, 2018. Persuaded by the offer, Rosen collected a sample, returned it to ESL, and received the gift card.
As part of its Patient Compliance Program, ESL analyzed Rosen’s sample and received $499 from Medicare for performing the test. The complaint filed against Exact Sciences states Medicare paid Exact Sciences more than $160 million for a total of 334,424 Cologuard tests in 2018 while the company offered “unlawful cash equivalent inducements directly to Medicare beneficiaries,” COSMOS reported.
“It was a straight-up kickback,” Rosen’s attorney Marlan Wilbanks, JD, Senior Partner at Atlanta law firm Wilbanks and Gouinlock, told COSMOS. “You can’t offer cash or cash equivalents to anyone to induce them to use a government service.”
DOJ Elects to Not Intervene in Lawsuit
In February 2020, Exact Sciences received a civil investigation demand by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the gift card incentive. The DOJ later filed a notice that it had elected to decline intervention in the lawsuit. This action did not prevent Rosen from continuing with the lawsuit. Accordingly, in April of 2021, he filed an amended complaint against Exact Sciences alleging violations of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute and False Claims Act.
Rosen is seeking a monetary award for himself, and on behalf of the US government, for civil penalties, treble damages, fees, and costs.
According to Report on Medicare Compliance, Exact Sciences “refuted the allegations and asserted, among other things, that the arrangement qualifies for the preventive care safe harbor to the anti-kickback statute (AKS) and that the complaint fails for many reasons.”
Exact Sciences also noted in its motion to dismiss that “encouraging a patient to have a medical service that was already ordered by a provider isn’t an inducement under the AKS.”
At this time, the case remains unresolved and continues in federal court.
DOJ Recovers Billions of Taxpayer Dollars from AKS Violations
A qui tam lawsuit or action is a method available for individuals to help the government circumvent fraud and recover money for taxpayers. Types of fraud included in these cases often pertain to Medicare and Medicaid services, defense contractor fraud, and procurement fraud.
According to the DOJ, over $1.9 billion was recovered as a result of qui tam lawsuits pursued by either the government or whistleblowers during fiscal year 2022. The number of these types of lawsuits has increased dramatically over the years with a total of 652 qui tam cases filed in 2022 alone.
Thus, clinical laboratory professionals should be aware that this type of novel scheme to generate more patients could possibly lead to legal issues. Dark Daily would like to credit Laboratory Economics for calling attention to this fascinating case of alleged illegal inducement involving a medical laboratory company.
The Department of Justice steps beyond the law’s original focus on opioid-related lab testing fraud
An interesting aspect with enforcement of the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (EKRA) is the government’s willingness to go after charges tied to fraudulent COVID-19 testing.
The case U.S. vs. Malena Badon Lepetich provides a good example of this approach. A grand jury indicted Lepetich on various healthcare fraud charges last year, including that she allegedly offered to pay kickbacks for referrals of specimens for COVID-19 testing.
“The government had really only used EKRA in the context of addiction treatment space,” attorney Alexander Porter, a Partner at law firm Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles, said in the latest issue of The Dark Report. “The Lepetich case shows that the government’s going to use EKRA beyond that context and go into other areas where they think that it can be useful—in particular, in the area of COVID-19 testing.”
Clinical laboratories and pathology groups should take note of this development.
Defendant Allegedly Filed $10 Million in Fraudulent Lab Claims
Lepetich was the owner of MedLogic, a clinical laboratory in Baton Rouge, La.
In addition to the fraudulent COVID-19 testing charges, she allegedly solicited and received kickbacks in exchange for referrals of urine specimens for medically unnecessary tests, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
EKRA Provisions Rose from the Opioid Crisis in the U.S.
EKRA is a criminal law that falls under the Communities and Patients Act, which lifted restrictions on medications for opioid treatment and sought to limit overprescribing of opioid painkillers. Originally, EKRA targeted fraudulent practices at sober homes and substance abuse treatment centers. However, the final draft of the bill added clinical laboratories to the list of providers under potential scrutiny.
At the time Congress passed EKRA, the law was primarily aimed at fraudulent activity in opioid treatment centers, including related lab testing.
A contentious part of EKRA for clinical laboratories and pathology groups is that certain conduct protected under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute is treated as a criminal offense under EKRA. Some common lab practices come under that confusing designation, such as paying lab sales reps on a commission-based formula based on testing volumes they generate.
It did not take long for fraudsters to pursue hundreds of billions of federal dollars designated to support SARS-CoV-2 testing and it is rare when federal prosecutors bring cases only a few months after illegal lab testing schemes are identified
As if the COVID-19 pandemic weren’t bad enough, unscrupulous clinical laboratory operators quickly sought to take advantage of the critical demand for SARS-CoV-2 testing and defraud the federal government.
Unfortunately for the many defendants in these cases, federal investigations into alleged cases of fraud were launched with noteworthy speed. As a result of these investigations into alleged healthcare fraud by clinical laboratories and other organizations during fiscal year (FY) 2020, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the US government has recovered $1.8 billion.
The federal prosecutions involved dozens of medical laboratory owners and operators who paid back “hundreds of millions in alleged federal healthcare program losses,” Goodwin Life Sciences Perspectives explained.
When combined with similar efforts starting in prior years, the program has returned to the federal government and private individuals a total of $3.1 billion, the DOJ noted.
“In its 24th year of operation, the program’s continued success confirms the soundness of a collaborative approach to identify and prosecute the most egregious instances of healthcare fraud, to prevent future fraud and abuse, and to protect program beneficiaries,” the report states.
COVID-19 Pandemic an Opportunity for Fraud
The HHS report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic required CMS to develop a “robust fraud risk assessment process” to identify clinical laboratory fraud schemes, such as offering COVID-19 tests in exchange for personal details and Medicare information.
“In one fraud scheme, some labs are targeting retirement communities claiming to offer COVID-19 tests but are drawing blood and billing federal healthcare programs for medically unnecessary services,” the HHS report notes.
Still other alleged schemes involved billing for expensive tests and services in addition to COVID-19 testing. “For example, providers are billing a COVID-19 test with other far more expensive tests such as the Respiratory Pathogen Panel (RPP) and antibiotic resistance tests,” the report says.
“Other potentially unnecessary tests being billed along with a COVID-19 test include genetic testing and cardiac panels CPT (current procedural terminology) codes. Providers are also billing respiratory, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and dermatologic pathogen code sets with the not otherwise specified code CPT 87798,” the report states.
Different Types of Healthcare Organizations Investigated in 2020
Beyond clinical laboratories, the HHS’ 124-page report also shares criminal and civil investigations of other healthcare organizations and areas including:
durable medical equipment,
electronic health records,
home health providers,
hospitals and healthcare systems,
nursing home and facilities,
According to the DOJ, “enforcement actions” in 2020 included:
1,148 new criminal healthcare fraud investigations opened,
440 defendants convicted of healthcare fraud and related crimes,
1,079 civil healthcare fraud investigations opened, and
1,498 pending civil health fraud matters at year-end.
“Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigative efforts resulted in over 407 operational disruptions of criminal fraud organizations and the dismantlement of the criminal hierarchy of more than 101 healthcare fraud criminal enterprises,” the DOJ reported.
Furthermore, the report said OIG investigations in 2020 led to:
578 criminal actions against people or organizations for Medicare-related crimes,
781 civil actions such as false claims, and
2,148 people and organizations eliminated from Medicare and Medicaid participation.
Implications for Clinical Laboratories
In 2020, OIG issued 178 reports, completed 44 evaluations, and made 689 recommendations to HHS divisions.
Clinical laboratory leaders may be most interested in those related to patient identification as a means to combating fraud and Medicare Part B lab testing reimbursement.
The HHS report says, “Medicare Advantage (MA) encounter data continue to lack National Provider Identifiers (NPIs) for providers who order and/or refer … clinical laboratory services,” adding that, “Almost half of MA organizations believe that using NPIs for ordering providers is critical for combating fraud.”
Additionally, the report states, “Medicare Part B spending for lab tests increased to $7.6 billion in 2018, despite lower payment rates for most lab tests. The $459 million spending increase was driven by:
“increased spending on genetic tests,
“ending the discount for certain chemistry tests, and the
“move to a single national fee schedule.”
Medical laboratory leaders may be surprised to learn that federal healthcare investigators were so vigorous in their investigations, even during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vigilance is critical to ensure labs do not fall under the DOJ’s scrutiny. This HHS report, which describes the types and dollars involved in fraudulent schemes by clinical labs and other providers, could help inform revisions to federal compliance regulations and statutes.
Book provides detailed road map for clinical laboratory professionals who believe they have a valid case to file under the federal qui tam statute, as well as lab owners who want to understand what motivates whistleblowers and what practices to avoid
Several high-profile whistleblower cases uncovering massive fraud have shocked the clinical laboratory industry over the past decade. Media coverage nearly always focuses on the court battle and subsequent renderings of justice. But little is written about what it is like to be a whistleblower who wants to hold a medical laboratory accountable for alleged violations of federal and state laws.
The book takes the reader on a gripping journey into extortion, money laundering, attempted murder, buried gold in a CEO’s backyard, fraudsters hiding money in the Cayman Islands, and, according to the author, an Assistant Attorney General sabotaging her own state’s case and a corrupt state Governor who undermined litigation by his own Attorney General.
“I wrote it to be a true crime thriller, so I’m hoping people who love thrillers will enjoy it as a true crime story,” Riedel said in an exclusive interview with Dark Daily. “For anyone who’s considering filing a whistleblower lawsuit, this is an absolute must read.
“Most whistleblowers get absolutely destroyed,” he explained. “When companies find out who’s trying to attack their business model, they do everything they can to destroy the whistleblower’s life. Many end up bankrupt, unemployable, and divorced.
“There are things you can do to protect yourself and I list those in my rules for whistleblowers. I hope enough people will read it—particularly in Congress and maybe the Department of Justice (DOJ)—to put pressure on the DOJ to change their behavior. They are far too willing to accept what they call ‘affordable civil settlements’ as opposed to punishing companies and people for their theft,” Riedel said.
Riedel became a whistleblower in 2005 when he filed a case under California law that was sealed until 2009. Jerry Brown, California Attorney General at that time, joined the case and unsealed it.
Riedel had acted after his sales representatives informed him that his company, Hunter Laboratories, needed to come up with a way to compete against larger labs’ pricing to survive. Knowing the test-price-discounting practices transpiring within the lab industry in California, Riedel determined he had three choices:
Violate federal and state laws to compete,
Close his business, which would cause him to lay off more than 150 employees and lose most of his life’s savings, or
Try to stop the other companies from participating in fraudulent practices.
“It is very frustrating for honest CEOs of clinical labs to see that they cannot compete well against those lab companies employing fraudulent schemes. Rather than compete on the quality of service of their products as honest companies do, fraudsters compete based on the value of their illegal inducements,” he states on his website. “I felt the pain that many other honest CEO’s and lab owners have had to endure as they try to compete with fraud and watch their life’s work destroyed.”
He chose to try leveling the playing field for all labs and stop taxpayers from being fleeced. After filing that first whistleblower lawsuit in California in 2005, he later filed similar whistleblower lawsuits in other states that had statutes defining how labs were to price lab tests for their Medicaid programs.
Riedel encountered many roadblocks and frustrations during the initial lawsuit, including some genuinely frightening moments. He described one such experience for Dark Daily.
“Quest and Labcorp together went to Blue Shield of California, a major insurance company, and they got our clinical lab kicked out of network. They offered Blue Shield a 10% discount on all their laboratory testing if they would kick Hunter Laboratories out of network,” Riedel explained. “Since [Quest and Labcorp] represented about 70% to 80% of the total outpatient laboratory testing for Blue Shield, it was too good for this insurer to pass up.
“When your lab loses a major insurance carrier like that, you can’t survive. What doctor is going to want to start with a clinical lab that doesn’t have Blue Shield? And existing clients don’t want to subject their patients to having much higher out-of-pocket expenses.
“From that point on, it was like a dagger in our heart,” he added. “We were literally two weeks away from both corporate and personal bankruptcy when we reached our historic settlement with Quest. Had it not been for that settlement, our 150 employees would have lost their jobs, we would have lost our house, and we would have been completely bankrupt. That was very scary, and I had a very hard time dealing with it.”
Uncovering Medical Laboratory Fraud
While performing his research for the whistleblower case, Riedel was astonished by the information and fraud he discovered.
“There was one point where we had to prove that Quest and Labcorp were passing out discounts to some clients that were at or below cost, without giving those same prices to the Medi-Cal program, as required by state law at that time,” Riedel explained. “I personally reviewed over a million documents. It took more than five years, but it was worth it.
“I eventually found three documents that exposed the complete fraud by Quest. These documents showed what Quest had billed Medi-Cal, how much money the company lost client billing and capitation contracts, and how much business they ‘pulled through’ from the government and insurance payers that made up for the staggering losses on deeply discounted client and capitated billing. That was like the silver bullet.”
In the process, Riedel also discovered what it was like to work with the federal Department of Justice.
“The DOJ hates people who file more than one whistleblower lawsuit,” he added. “They don’t like the statute to begin with, and they barely tolerate whistleblowers, so when they find someone who does it time and again, they really don’t like it.”
Riedel is considering writing a second book and is trying to decide which qui tam lawsuits will provide the best subject matter.
“I am currently investigating what would be a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against an insurance company and that is going to be, by far, the biggest of the cases I have ever been involved in. That might make a good book all by itself,” he said.
Riedel finds his work fighting fraud against the government rewarding and plans to continue his efforts in the future.
“Even though it’s risky—and the book details how my life was almost destroyed when the Blood Brothers counter attacked—I enjoy the investigative work and legal challenges. For me, it is very fulfilling, and I am proud to carry the torch for taxpayers,” he says in a statement on his website.
The 368-page book should be of interest to clinical laboratory personnel, healthcare professionals, those considering becoming a whistleblower, and basically anyone involved in medical laboratory testing.