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Crime & Courts

Were WellCare jurors tainted by ‘60 Minutes’ episode?

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Published:   |   Updated: August 28, 2013 at 06:17 PM

TAMPA — Attorneys representing four former WellCare executives found guilty of multiple medical fraud-related charges in June have asked a federal judge to bring the jury back in and ask if they watched a particular “60 Minutes” episode during deliberations.

The episode focused on medical ethics. The attorneys want to ask the jurors if they watched the show and, if so, if it influenced their verdicts.

Defense attorneys argued in their recently filed 14-page motion that among those interviewed in the segment was Alan Levine, known to the jurors as the secretary of the Florida agency that oversaw Medicaid and Medicare payments during the time the WellCare executives defrauded the government.

They say the segment aired the night before the jury rendered its verdict and the coincidence was too much to ignore.

Prosecutors called the motion “a fishing expedition” and argued against it.

Charged with multiple counts of medical fraud, conspiracy and making false statements were former WellCare Chief Executive Officer Todd Farha; Chief Financial Officer Paul Behrens; William Kale, vice president of Harmony Behavioral Health, a WellCare subsidiary; and Peter Clay, vice president of medical operations.

Farha was found guilty of two counts of health-care fraud and acquitted of six other charges, including giving false statements. Behrens also was found guilty of two counts of health-care fraud and two counts of making false statements but was acquitted of other two other false statement charges.

Kale was found guilty of two counts of health-care fraud and Clay was found guilty of two counts of making false statements

The 10-woman, two-man jury deliberated for three weeks before delivering the mixed bag of verdicts on June 10.

The deliberations were interrupted on June 5 when a juror called in sick, resulting in a five-day break for the panel.

During that break, the rerun of the “60 Minutes” segment titled “The Cost of Admission,” aired, defense attorneys said, and the next day, the verdicts were rendered.

Among those interviewed on the show was was Levine, former secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversaw Medicaid disbursements to WellCare during period the fraud was taking place.

The defense attorneys argued the fact the verdicts came a day after the show aired implies the jury members may have seen the segment.

“The sudden change of direction on those counts, so quickly after the episode aired,” the motion says, “strongly supports a colorable inference of prejudicial impact.”

In their response, prosecutors said there is no reason to call in jurors for interviews.

“Defendants’ motion is based entirely on speculation, unsupported by the substantial evidence of actual impropriety that might justify recalling a jury en masse to interrogate it about its verdict,’’ prosecutors wrote.

A status conference was held Wednesday morning in the case, but the motion, along with a handful of other defense motions, were not heard. Moody indicated he would rule on the motions by the end of the year, possibly as early as next month.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

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