Businessman Rick Scott, who is battling Attorney General Bill McCollum for the Republican nomination for governor in Florida, is refusing to release a deposition he gave in regard to a lawsuit alleging fraudulent practices at a healthcare company Scott now heads.
Ten prominent Florida lawmakers have issued a call for Scott to release the deposition and other documents or withdraw from the race for the good of the Republican Party.
At a hastily called news conference in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Scott accused McCollum of abusing his power as attorney general by seeking to have state investigators probe the company involved in the lawsuit, Solantic Urgent Care, and stated flatly that he would not release his deposition.
Cutting off reporters repeatedly they asked about the deposition, Scott snapped: “You can ask the question 100 times and get the same answer. It’s a private matter.”
The new scandal could prove especially damaging to the Scott campaign in light of lingering questions about his role in an earlier Medicare fraud case.
In 1997, Scott was forced to resign as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the nation’s largest hospital chain, while it was being investigated for massive Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The FBI launched a multi-state probe that led to the firm’s pleading guilty to criminal charges of overbilling the government.
It remains the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history and ended with Columbia/HCA paying a record $1.7 billion in fines, penalties and damages.
Scott, who walked away from the company with $310 million, has stated in TV commercials for his campaign that he accepted responsibility for what occurred at Columbia/HCA and said he had learned “hard lessons” from the case.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life. And mistakes were certainly made at Columbia/HCA,” he stated on his campaign website.
“I was the CEO of the company and as CEO I accept responsibility for what happened on my watch. I learned very hard lessons from what happened and those lessons have helped me become a better businessman and leader.”
But Scott’s new company, Solantic, has been faced with a wave of recent lawsuits alleging a similar pattern of fraud.
Solantic, a chain of about 30 walk-in Florida clinics he co-founded after leaving Columbia/HCA, ironically, faces an allegation of billing irregularities involving Medicare.
Two physicians, both former employees of Solantic, claim that the company repeatedly used their names and medical license information without their permission in order to keep the clinics operating legally, according to an investigation by The Florida Independent.
Dr. P. Mark Glencross began working as Solantic’s chief medical officer in 2003, and states in his lawsuit — the suit that led to Scott’s videotaped deposition — that he left in 2004 after he discovered incidents of “unauthorized misappropriation.”
He filed a suit in 2008 alleging that the company “secretly” named him medical director of six clinics to comply with state regulations requiring that each clinic designate a medical director who would accept legal responsibility at the site.
Solantic settled the suit with Glencross in May.
The second physician, Dr. Randy Prokes, worked at Solantic from 2004 to November 2009, treating patients at one of the chain’s clinics. He claims his name appeared on billing forms and medical records at clinics he never visited, with patients he never met.
Prokes called that “a really unethical practice.”
He told The Florida Independent he also discovered documents showing that Medicare was being improperly billed when a nurse practitioner was working alone at a clinic.
If a nurse practitioner treats patients when there is no doctor on the premises, Medicare in almost all cases will pay only 85 percent of the scheduled fee for the visits. Prokes said records showed that Medicare was being charged 100 percent for the visits.
A former Solantic manager said the Medicare “discrepancies” would amount to tens of thousands of dollars a month.
Solantic fired Prokes on Nov. 23, 2009, shortly after he began questioning company practices, according to a nurse at Solantic. The company asserts that he was terminated for other reasons. Prokes has settled his suit with Solantic, Independent reported.
Several former Solantic employees said that Scott was a hands-on owner who talked often with management and approved all major policy decisions.
At Scott’s news conference in the state capital Tuesday, a process server approached him at the podium, before he could begin addressing the media, and gave him a subpoena in a lawsuit filed by Tallahassee trial lawyer Steve Andrews, the Miami Herald reported.
Andrews is requesting the release of the videotaped deposition Scott gave in the Glencross case in August 2009, just six days before he announced his candidacy for governor.
Andrews is a contributor to the McCollum campaign, but he also has contributed to Democrat Alex Sink, who also is running for governor, and says he was motivated because “I routinely sue hospitals and medical facilities and I believe this sort of information should be public.”
Andrews also said: “This guy Scott is the corporate spawn of Satan.”
Also on Tuesday, 10 Republican lawmakers in Florida — nine members of the state House and one state senator — sent a letter to Scott stating: “Recently, it has come to our attention that just six days before you announced your candidacy for governor, you were deposed over allegations amounting to criminal and fraudulent activity at Solantic, a company you founded and operate. Instead of being forthcoming about your role in the case, it appears you worked behind the scenes to prevent this deposition from reaching the public view.
“As state legislators with an interest in building on our party’s success over the past 12 years, we are concerned your refusal to be upfront with the public in this case could severely jeopardize your chances of becoming governor should you win the Republican gubernatorial primary.
“We ask that you release your deposition and all documents related to and concerning lawsuits against Solantic in order to provide the transparency the public wants and deserves.
“If you remain unwilling to release these materials and answer questions on these issues, we believe you should immediately withdraw from the race for the good of our party and the conservative cause in Florida.”
The McCollum campaign issued a statement following Scott’s news conference: “If the stakes weren’t so high, Rick Scott’s performance in Tallahassee today would have been laughable. Unfortunately, running for Governor is no laughing matter.
“Rick Scott, the disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA who is inseparably associated with one of the most massive Medicare fraud schemes in American history, now refuses to answer questions about alarming new revelations about his current company Solantic.
“Just six days before Rick Scott entered the race for governor, he was personally deposed in a civil case alleging criminal activity by his company. Now Rick Scott is refusing to release this and other relevant information to voters.
“Today, Rick Scott called the deposition a private matter. But as a candidate for governor, his role in a possible third degree felony is a very public matter, one that could have ramifications for all Republicans running for office. Floridians deserve the facts. If Rick Scott won’t come clean with Florida voters now, how can he be trusted to lead the fourth-largest state in the nation during these challenging economic times?”
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