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Blowing the whistle

Countries across the world are increasingly recognizing the importance of whistleblowers in the fight against corruption and fraud. Here’s some useful background for CFEs wanting to know about the latest whistleblower protections and legislation.

In November of last year, Daniel McCollum, a South Carolina-based chiropractor, pleaded guilty to illegal kickbacks and defrauding health care programs by billing for unnecessar services. He now faces a $9 million civil judgment, a possible $250,000 criminal fine and up to five years in prison.

McCollum allegedly paid kickbacks to providers for urine drug-testing referrals and then billed federal health care programs for those tests at even higher rates than he paid the lab. Urine tests, which are reportedly standard practice at pain care centers, can cost up to a whopping $4,000 each. McCollum was also accused of writing prescriptions for unnecessary pain creams often without the knowledge or approval of patients’ health care providers. [See “United States Obtains $140 Million in False Claims Act Judgments Against South Carolina Pain Management Clinics,” U.S Department of Justice (DOJ), Sept. 3, 2021, and “Upstate SC chiropractor pleads guilty in pain management fraud; faces prison, $9M judgment,” by Eric Connor, The Post and Courier, Nov 23, 2021.)

The discovery of McCollum’s wrongdoing was largely thanks to several whistleblowers — Donna Rauch, Muriel Calhoun, Brandy Knight, Karen Mathewson and Tracy Hawkins — former employees who’d worked in pain clinics owned and operated by McCollum in South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. All five filed complaints under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act (FCA), which allows private whistleblowers (also known as “relators”) to file actions on behalf of the U.S. government and be compensated with portions of the recoveries. (See “South Carolina Chiropractor Pleads Guilty and Agrees to $9 Million False Claims Act Consent Judgment,” DOJ, Office of Public Affairs, Nov. 22, 2021, and “United States of America ex rel. Donna Rauch, Muriel Calhoun, and Brandy Knight, plaintiffs, v. Oaktree Medical Centre, P.C., et. al,” U.S District Court of South Carolina, Nov. 8, 2021.)

This is just one of many cases whistleblowers have brought under the FCA since the U.S. Congress passed the act during the American Civil War. Sincw the 1980s when Congress amended the act to make it more eff ective, the FCA has proven to be a key tool in the government’s fight against corruption and fraud. (See “What is the False Claims Act?” Phillips & Cohen.)

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