UGA Offers a Free Legal Clinic for Veterans

Partner Jason Marcus's alma mater, the University of Georgia School of Law, recently announced that it has opened a legal clinic that will offer free services for veterans. The clinic will help with filing claims for pension and compensations, often for service-related disabilities.

The program offers much needed aid to veterans as well as practical experience to law students of the university. The clinic will focus on the Athens area and surrounding counties. According to law professor Alex Scherr, their current pool of cases goes back two or three decades.

Veterans from rural counties often face obstacles in transportation and technology, which makes finding and staying connected with a lawyer difficult. Statistics show about 50,000 veterans live in the counties surrounding Athens, out of more than 690,000 veterans in Georgia.

Bracker & Marcus LLC has represented whistleblower veterans who are reporting fraud against the Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs, among other government agencies.

Congratulations Serena and Jason!

Jason Marcus is getting married today to his fiance, Serena Holder, on the Greek Island of Poros. Poros is a little jewel of the Saronic Gulf islands surrounded by pine forests reaching the sea offering serenity, relaxation, and also amazing lemon tree forests.

Jason and Serena spent the last two weeks touring Italy and Greece. They have indulged in amazing meals, inspiring artwork and adventures across Europe. It was all leading up to today when they finally tie the knot! 

Please join us in congratulating Jason and Serena on this special day! We wish you happiness for many years to come!

Beware of "Speaker Fees" and other Kickbacks

Speaker programs are a widely used marketing tool in the pharmaceutical business. Drug makers enlist doctors to give paid talks about the benefits of a product to other potential prescribers, at a clinic or over dinner in a private room at a restaurant. But Krane and some fellow rookie reps were already getting a clear message from Burlakoff, she said, that his idea of a speaker program was something else, and they were concerned: It sounded a lot like a bribery scheme.

One of the most common varieties of False Claims Act cases, resulting in some of the biggest judgments, are kickback cases. Doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, etc. are not allowed to take gifts, including cash, that may influence their medical judgment. Patients are entitled to unbiased advice. But, for example, if a doctor gets a cut every time he sends a patient to John Doe Hospital, he is probably going to direct his patients to that hospital.

The ostensible purpose of a pharma-speaker program, as Krane understood it, was to spread the word about the drug through peer-to-peer marketing. With “honorariums” changing hands, the potential for a subtle corruption is clear, but Burlakoff was not subtle. He told Krane, she said, that the real target was not the audience but the speaker himself, who would keep getting paid to do programs if and only if he showed loyalty to Subsys. It was a quid pro quo or, as the Department of Justice later called it, a kickback. “He boiled it right down,” Krane recalled: We pay doctors to write scripts. That’s what the speaker program is.

If a doctor is receiving benefits from a pharmaceutical company, he is more likely to prescribe drugs from that company, even if the patient doesn't need them. And if the doctor is seen as prescribing more drugs, then the pharmaceutical company may be inclined to give even more benefits. It is this type of kickback that has not only defrauded Medicare and Medicaid out of millions of dollars, but, as this investigative report from Evan Hughes of the New York Times delves into, it has helped to fuel pill mills and the national opioid crisis.

The speaker events themselves were often a sham, as top prescribers and reps have admitted in court. Frequently, they consisted of a nice dinner with the sales rep and perhaps the doctor’s support staff and friends, but no other licensed prescriber in attendance to learn about the drug. One doctor did cocaine in the bathroom of a New York City restaurant at his own event, according to a federal indictment. Some prescribers were paid four figures to “speak” to an audience of zero.

If you are in the medical field, be on the lookout for such arrangements that appear to pay a medical practitioner something for nothing, or that are out of whack with what you would expect for the service being provided, especially if the payments are based on volume (e.g., the more referrals/prescriptions, the bigger the payment). These agreements frequently violate federal Stark and Anti-Kickback laws and can be the basis of a False Claims Act case.

Lance Armstrong Settles False Claims Act Case for $5 Million

Lance Armstrong has settled allegations by the federal government that he defrauded the U.S. Postal Service when they cheated by taking performance enhancing drugs while riding under the U.S.P.S. banner.  Armstrong's former U.S. Postal Service teammate, Floyd Landis, sued Armstrong under the federal False Claims Act. Armstrong has previously admitted to doping and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, from 1999 to 2005. Landis himself has also admitted to doping, and has settled similar allegations, and was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title.

According to court records, the contract paid the team, which was operated by Tailwind Sports Corp., about $32 million from 2000 to 2004. Armstrong got nearly $13.5 million. Armstrong claimed he didn’t owe the Postal Service anything because the agency made far more off the sponsorship than it paid; his lawyers estimate around $100 million. The government countered that Armstrong had been “unjustly enriched” through the sponsorship and that the negative fallout from the doping scandal tainted the agency’s reputation.

Armstrong reached a $5 million settlement with the federal government, which could have pursued "treble damages" of up to $100 million. As the person who filed the original lawsuit, Landis will receive $1.1 million. Armstrong will also pay $1.65 million to cover Landis’ legal fees. The case against Tailwind Sports Corp., however, continues.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Armstrong said he’s happy to have “made peace with the Postal Service.”