The Supreme Court voted on Wednesday in favor of enhancing protections for government whistleblowers. The 7-2 decision involved a federal air marshal who had been terminated in 2005 for disclosing planned cutbacks to air marshals on commercial flights.
In 2003, air marshal Robert MacLean received a text message from the Transportation Safety Administration saying the agency would be reducing the number of air marshals on certain flights in order to save money. Worried about the effect this would have on safety, MacLean approached his superiors who said nothing could be done about the planned reduction.
MacLean then contacted a reporter at MSNBC who published an article about the downsizing. The report sparked public and congressional criticism of the TSA. After it was discovered two years later that MacLean was the source for the article, he was fired.
MacLean challenged his termination by bringing suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. At issue was whether or not MacLean’s disclosure to the MSNBC reporter was specifically prohibited by law. According to the Orange County Register, the government argued that MacLean’s disclosure was prohibited by TSA regulation and a provision in the Homeland Security Act. The court ruled in MacLean’s favor, saying that his disclosure could only be prohibited by statute, not regulation. The relevant statute in his case, the court ruled, only provides general criteria for disclosures considered detrimental to the safety of transportation.
When the case moved to the Supreme Court, the justices disagreed with both of the government’s arguments, finding that regulations are not law, and the Homeland Security Act provision in question “does not prohibit anything.”
The MacLean decision means that government agencies will not be allowed to use regulation as a means to evade the Whistleblower Protection Act. Government whistleblowers can now come forward with claims of fraud and mismanagement without fear that the government will be able to use internal regulations as a means to deter them.
The South Florida medical supply company raided by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents this week has ties to the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ movie, according to an FBI spokesman. Investigators raided Med-Care Diabetic and Medical Supply Inc. in Boca Raton this week in connection with a whistleblower lawsuit that claims the company defrauded government healthcare agencies of millions.
Among Med-Care’s top executives is Daniel Porush, who served as a model for Jonah Hill’s character in the ‘Wolf of Wall Street.’ The movie was based on a book written by Jordan Belfort (played in the movie by Leonardo DiCaprio), who was business partners with Porush in a series of investment and telemarketing operations. Belfort and Porush were both imprisoned for their roles in fraud schemes depicted in the book and movie.
When the FBI came to raid Med-Care’s offices, Porush and his wife declined to answer any questions from reporters and drove away in a Rolls-Royce. An attorney for Med-Care said the company is prepared to fully cooperate with investigators.
The whistleblower lawsuit was filed by Tiffany Bumbury, a former employee with a company affiliated with Med-Care Diabetic and Medical Supply Inc. Bumbury claims that Med-Care Diabetic operated call centers where Medicare beneficiaries were contacted and asked about receiving medical equipment that was excessive, unnecessary or not requested. Occasionally, Med-Care would submit for Medicare reimbursement for equipment that never went to a beneficiary.
Bumbury further claims that workers at these call centers were told to “say whatever they needed to say” in order to get Medicare billing information from beneficiaries and secure a sale. For example, telemarketers would pronounce Med-Care to sound like Medicare, then offer free equipment. They would also claim to be from the ‘Christian Healthcare Network’ or the ‘Christian Diabetic Network’ and tell callers that any proceeds from transactions would be donated to charitable organizations.
According to Fox Business, Medicare paid Med-Care over $84 million between 2009 and 2012 through the alleged scheme.