Birmingham attorney Rob Riley faces allegations in a federal whistleblower lawsuit that his physical-therapy company has engaged in Medicare fraud and other unlawful behavior.
That's the same Rob Riley whose father served two terms as Alabama governor, claiming all the while that he and his associates were a highly ethical bunch. That's also the same Rob Riley who represented investors claiming to be victims of health-care fraud connected to Birmingham's HealthSouth Corporation.
Riley, an avowed Republican, joined hands with Haskell Slaughters's G. Douglas Jones, a supposed Democrat, to walk away with a healthy chunk of the roughly $50 million in attorney fees that were generated in the HealthSouth case.
Is this story dripping with irony? Riley got paid for "fighting" health-care fraud at the same time he faced charges of engaging in health-care fraud, via a company called Performance Group LLC. Does it help to be the son of a white, conservative governor in a Deep South state, or what?
And that brings us to the subject of race--and this story might be dripping with more racism than it is irony. If you read The Birmingham News in its dying days as a daily newspaper, you noticed that reporter Mike Oliver fired off regular dispatches about misconduct involving a Birmingham health-care executive named Jonathan Dunning. You can check out the News' most recent piece on Dunning here, along with links to its previous installments.
We've read the entire Dunning series, and while it is filled with numerous slings and arrows, it's never clear exactly what he has done wrong. Oh, the most recent report (unless I've missed one) goes into allegations of sexual harassment, which were brought by a woman who reportedly had an extramarital affair with Dunning, producing two children. (Question: How can you sexually harass a woman who has produced two of your children? Hasn't such a relationship kind of gone beyond the sexual-harassment stage?)
But if Jonathan Dunning has broken any laws, it's hard to tell from the News' reports. Meanwhile, the federal court file on the Performance Group LLC case offers ample evidence of unlawful behavior involving Riley and his associates. (See document at the end of this post.)
So why has The Birmingham News produced a six-part series (and counting) about Jonathan Dunning's transgressions while it hasn't published a single word about Rob Riley's ties to Medicare fraud?
Did we mention that Rob Riley is white and Jonathan Dunning is black? Did we mention this is Alabama, in 2012?
What is Rob Riley doing in the physical-therapy business? Is it because the durable medical equipment business is ripe for Medicare fraud? Riley's company, Performance Group LLC, is based in Birmingham and treats patients here and at several other locations around Alabama, including Cullman and Albertville.
A Birmingham woman named Ingrid Awtrey Law filed the whistleblower complaint, called a qui tam case under the U.S. False Claims Act, after working at Spinal Rehab Associates from March 2005 to July 2006. Spinal Rehab began operating under the Performance Group name in January 2006.
The complaint states that Rob Riley is an owner and operator of Performance Group, along with Francois Michel Blaudeau, a gynecologist and lawyer who is affiliated with UAB and also is with the Homewood law firm of Riley and Jackson. Other key executives with Performance Group were David Marshall and Thomas Spurlock, a chiropractor who was affiliated with the UAB Department of Neurosurgery.
Law states that, throughout her employment, she was instructed to provide physical therapy services, even though she was not licensed to do so. She states that many of procedures and services she performed were billed to Medicare. The complaint describes a fraud scheme that involved:
* Forgery of physician signatures;
* Billing for services not rendered or not medically necessary;
* False claims for unnecessary medical equipment;
* Prohibited referrals; and
* False billings for services provided by an unlicensed therapist.
Why has Rob Riley not been held accountable for an apparent scheme to defraud the government? Why has The Birmingham News ignored the story?
And here is something curious: The Jonathan Dunning story involves allegations from a number of individuals with ties to UAB. The first installment in the series states that several UAB departments had entered into contracts with Dunning and his company, Birmingham Health Care, from 2003 to 2009, but the relationship eventually ended. The article included critical statements about Birmingham Health Care from UAB physician Stefan Kertesz.
The most recent installment in the series states that a woman named Sharon Waltz had filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Dunning. Waltz is a clinical psychologist who is affiliated with UAB's Department of Psychiatry.
UAB, and individuals affiliated with it, appear to be attacking a black man who heads a health-care company. Meanwhile, the university does not seem remotely concerned about a white man who heads a health-care company that reportedly has ties to Medicare fraud--and that firm has included at least two officers (Spurlock and Blaudeau) who have past or current affiliations with UAB.
What is up with that? Is a taxpayer-supported university going out of its way to attack Jonathan Dunning while happily ignoring alleged wrongdoing connected to Rob Riley? Is UAB operating with racist motives?
We will examine those questions, and more, in upcoming posts.
Ingrid Awtrey Law--Qui Tam