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Central Florida Pain Management Clinic Falls Victim to Civil Forfeiture

DPP_12By Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm

On June 14, 2013, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, along with local police and sheriffs’ deputies raided a Longwood, Florida, pain management clinic. In addition to criminal charges, the physicians and employees associated with this clinic face another lesser known threat,  the civil forfeiture of their money and property. During the raid agents took everything from the clinic that could help them build a criminal prosecution. This included paper records, computer equipment and prescription drugs. In addition to the Longwood pain management clinic, DEA agents also searched homes in Brevard County, Florida, where associates of the Longwood clinic allegedly live. To read more on the raid, click here.

This is just one example. Recently we’ve noticed that it is becoming more common for government prosecutors and agencies, including the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and local sheriff and police departments to use the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act against health professionals and health facilities in health-related cases.

The Difference Between Criminal and Civil Forfeiture Laws.

There are two types of forfeiture laws, criminal and civil.  Criminal forfeiture laws allow the seizure of property only after a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, civil forfeiture laws allow the government to gain possession of a person’s property immediately and without any determination of guilt.

Property is Subject to Forfeiture if Criminally Derived.

Under the idea that the property is itself guilty by association, federal and local law enforcement authorities may take your property without convicting or arresting you, putting the burden on you to prove that property was not associated with a criminal enterprise.  The property seized does not have to belong to the alleged bad actor or criminal.  This can occur because civil forfeiture is a civil lawsuit against property. The legal action has less to do with a person’s guilt and more to do with the property’s use as an instrumentality in a crime.  If the property has been used in association with or to aid criminal acts, the property is subject to civil forfeiture proceedings.

This is what the physicians and employees of the Longwood clinic are now facing.  While these individuals’ homes and property may not be directly associated with criminal activity, the government is still arguing that the property is subject to forfeiture because the money used to buy it was “criminally derived.”

Fighting Civil Forfeiture.

We believe the main purpose in the government’s use of civil forfeitures is to shut down the alleged criminal and make it so he or she cannot hire an attorney to defend the person(s) accused. This does, unfortunately, often work. However, a prompt, aggressive defense to these actions may recover the property or funds seized and, more importantly, a good defense can be used to help resolve any pending criminal charges.

The key to success in civil forfeiture actions is to immediately consult with an experienced attorney after the property has been seized.  Your best defense is to act as quickly as possible. To read more what defenses can be used to fight civil forfeiture, click here for a previous blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Civil Forfeiture Cases.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, mental health counselors and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, civil forfeitures, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of the Civil Forfeiture Act being used against health care professionals and health facilities? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: Christopher E. Brown, J.D., is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

What Should I Do If I Have Property That Is the Subject of a Seizure under the Civil Forfeiture Act?

Headshot of attorney George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The civil forfeiture of property has become a popular tool for state and federal agencies to fight alleged criminal activity.  It is a civil proceeding that permits the government to seize personal property if it is believed that the property is “proceeds of criminal activity.”  The civil forfeiture law allows government authorities, usually police authorities, to gain possession of a person’s property without any determination of guilt or innocence of the person involved.

What Actions Cause Property to be Seized?

Typically, a forfeiture action begins when personal property is seized after an arrest. During the raid government agents can take everything that could help build a criminal prosecution. This can include paper records, computer equipment, money, cell phones and cars.

We are seeing more cases where both local and federal law enforcement authorities are using the civil forfeiture laws to seize property in cases where there are allegations of Medicare fraud, Medicaid fraud, “pill mill” operations, pharmacies filling an excess number of pain management prescriptions (charged as “drug trafficking” by law enforcement), and physicians and clinics writing an excess number of pain management prescriptions (also charged as “drug trafficking” by law enforcement).

Actions to Take If Your Property is Seized.

If you are the subject of a seizure, always ask for an inventory of the items taken, obtain a receipt, and obtain the contact information of each agent or police official involved.  Act to preserve any property that is not seized.

Next, contact an attorney experienced in defending against such seizures right away.  You have a number of rights and opportunities to get your property back.  However, there is a very short time period to request a preliminary hearing on the matter.

Act Quickly to Regain Your Property.

We believe the government’s use of civil forfeitures is to shut down the alleged criminal and make it so the victim cannot hire an attorney. However, there are defenses and often the government exceeds the bounds of propriety. The key to success in civil forfeiture actions is to immediately consult with an experienced attorney after the property has been seized. Your best defense is to act quickly.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Civil Forfeiture Cases.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, mental health counselors and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, civil forfeitures, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of the Civil Forfeiture Act being used against health care professionals and health facilities? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

The Government’s Use of Civil Forfeiture to Combat Health Care Fraud and Pill Mills in Florida

CEB Blog Label2By Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Recently we have seen government prosecutors and agencies, including the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the U.S. Attorney General’s (AG) Office, and local sheriff and police departments use the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act against health professionals and health facilities in health-related cases.

A prompt, aggressive defense to these actions may recover the property or funds seized and, more importantly, a good defense can be used to help resolve any pending criminal charges.

Civil Forfeiture of Property is Used to Fight Alleged Criminal Activity.

The civil forfeiture of property has become a popular tool for state and federal agencies to combat alleged criminal activity.  In Florida, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, Sections 932.701 through 932.706, Florida Statues permits the government to seize personal property if there is probable cause to believe that property is either an instrumentality or the proceeds of criminal activity. In federal cases, such as Medicare fraud cases, the Federal Forfeiture Act can be found at 18 U.S.C. §983.Typically, a forfeiture action begins when personal property is seized as a result of a violation or arrest.  The owner of the personal property is then entitled to a notice within five (5) days of the seizure.

Remember If You Are The Subject of a Seizure, Ask For:

1.  An inventory of the seized items.

2.  A Receipt.

3.  The business cards or names, addresses, titles and phone numbers of each official or agent involved.

What is The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing?

Your most important right after a seizure is the right to an adversarial preliminary hearing.  This request must be made in writing within fifteen (15) calendar days of receipt of the notice. Sometimes the notice is given at the time the property is seized; it is important not to lose or misplace it.

When an adversarial preliminary hearing is held, the Court will review the verified affidavit and any other supporting documents and take testimony to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the seized property was used, is being used, was attempted to be used, or was intended to be used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.

While the burden of proof at this initial stage favors the government, the adversarial preliminary hearing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to fight for the return of the property and assert any defenses that exist in the case.  Even if unsuccessful at this hearing, the property owner is still entitled to a later civil forfeiture trial in which the government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was used in the commission of or obtained through the proceeds of criminal activity. Often it is unable to do this and far more defenses are available for use at the trial.

The key to success in civil forfeiture actions is to immediately consult with an experienced attorney after the property has been seized. Your best defense is to act as quickly as possible.

Use of Adversarial Preliminary Hearing to Obtain Information for Defense.

The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing is also a tool by which a defendant can obtain early, detailed discovery on his or her case. During the hearing the law enforcement authorities will be required to testify under oath and produce any documentary evidence. This can prove invaluable to the criminal defense attorney in later criminal proceedings.

Did the Government Exceed the Bounds of Propriety?

Although the government would contend otherwise, we believe the main purpose in the government’s use of civil forfeitures is to shut down the alleged criminal and make it so he or she cannot hire an attorney to defend the person(s) accused. This does, unfortunately, often work.

However, there are defenses and often the government exceeds the bounds of propriety in its overzealousness. We have successfully defended, for example, cases in which:

–  A sheriff’s office seized a spouse’s personal car for which she had traded in her old car.

–  A teenage daughter’s college account that had in it only money she had earned from her part-time job.

–  Money from a business owner’s purse which had been given to her by her mother to pay for her hospital labor and delivery charges.

–  Money from a roll-over IRA account which had been invested long before any criminal activity was alleged to have occurred.

–  Money from a family member’s account which had come from social security payments made for that person.

Every Person Should File a Claim.

If a spouse or other family member has an interest in the property, especially if that person is named on the account or title, that person should file a separate claim for return of the property and demand a Preliminary Adversarial Hearing. Even if the initial hearing is not successful in achieving an early return of the property, such defenses should prevail at the trial of the case.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Civil Forfeiture Cases.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, mental health counselors and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, civil forfeitures, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of the Civil Forfeiture Act being used against health care professionals and health facilities? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
About the Authors: Christopher E. Brown, J.D., is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.


“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

A New Trend in the Government’s Fight Against Health Care Fraud and Pill Mills: Civil Forfeiture

CEB Blog Label2By Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Recently, we have noticed government prosecutors and agencies, including the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the U.S. Attorney General’s (AG) Office, and local sheriff and police departments use the Civil Forfeiture Act against licensed health professionals and health facilities in health-related cases.

A quick, aggressive defense to these actions may recover the property or funds seized. A good defense can also be used to help resolve any pending criminal charges.

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act and the Federal Forfeiture Act.

In Florida, the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, Sections 932.701 through 932.707, Florida Statues permits the government to seize personal property if there is probable cause to believe that property is either an instrumentality or the proceeds of criminal activity. In federal cases, such as Medicare fraud cases, the Federal Forfeiture Act can be found at 18 U.S.C. §983.

Usually, a forfeiture action begins when personal property is seized as a result of a violation or arrest.  The owner of the personal property is then entitled to a notice within five days of the seizure.

If you are the subject of a seizure, always ask for:

1.  An inventory of the seized items.
2.  A Receipt.
3.  The business cards or names, addresses, titles and phone numbers of each official or agent involved.

Know Your Rights If You Are the Subject Of a Seizure.

Your most important right after a seizure is the right to an adversarial preliminary hearing.  This request must be made in writing within 15 calendar days of receipt of the notice. Sometimes the notice is given at the time the property is seized. It is important not to lose or misplace it.

When an adversarial preliminary hearing is held, the Court will review the verified affidavit and any other supporting documents and take testimony to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the seized property was used, is being used, was attempted to be used, or was intended to be used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.

While the burden of proof at this initial stage favors the government, the adversarial preliminary hearing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to fight for the return of the property and assert any defenses in the case.  Even if unsuccessful at this hearing, the property owner is still entitled to a later civil forfeiture trial in which the government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was used in the commission of or obtained through the proceeds of criminal activity. Often it is unable to do this and far more defenses are available for use at the trial.

The key to success in civil forfeiture actions is to immediately consult with an experienced attorney after the property has been seized. Your best defense is to act as quickly as possible.

The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing.

The Adversarial Preliminary Hearing is also a tool by which a defendant can obtain early, detailed discovery on his or her case. During the hearing the law enforcement authorities will be required to testify under oath and produce any documentary evidence. This can prove invaluable to the criminal defense attorney in later criminal proceedings.

The Main Purpose of Civil Forfeitures.

Although the government would contend otherwise, we believe the main purpose in the government’s use of civil forfeitures is to shut down the alleged criminal and make it so he or she cannot hire an attorney to defend the person(s) accused. This does, unfortunately, often work. However, there are defenses and often the government exceeds the bounds of propriety.

File Separate Claims for Each Individual Involved.

If a family member has an interest in the property, especially if that person is named on the account or title, that person should file a separate claim for return of the property and demand a Preliminary Adversarial Hearing. Even if the initial hearing is not successful in achieving an early return of the property, such defenses should prevail at the trial of the case.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Civil Forfeiture Cases.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, mental health counselors and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, civil forfeitures, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of the Civil Forfeiture Act being used against health care professionals and health facilities? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Authors: Christopher E. Brown, J.D., is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.