MIAMI — The AIDS Healthcare Foundation on Friday filed suit against the three former executives who alleged earlier this month that the organization defrauded public programs in California and Florida of at least $20 million a year in false claims.
The AHF charged in its suit that the three former executives seek to use wrongfully obtained “highly-sensitive, confidential and HIPAA-protected information” as leverage in their whistleblower lawsuit, and is seeking a restraining order over their continued possession of the data.
The former executives’ whistleblower suit alleged that the AHF defrauded federal healthcare programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Health and Human Services HIV/AIDS grant programs by unlawfully paying referral incentives to employees and patients in violation of an anti-kickback statute.
AHF President Michael Weinstein was alleged to have directed the group’s staff to put in play a nationwide patient financial incentive of $50 for them to take part in medical care, according to the whistleblower suit. Employees, the suit said, received $100.
The practice over the alleged kickbacks began in California, and then spread to other states, including Florida, where AHF has a substantial presence, according to the whistleblower suit.
The AHF’s suit against the former executives also fingers and names as defendants three law firms handling their end of the litigation — Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, Salpeter Gitkin and the Kaiser Law Firm, and Theodore Leopold, an attorney with Cohen Milstein. The lawsuit was filed at federal court in Miami.
“Plaintiff AIDS Healthcare Foundation seeks an injunction and damages as a result of defendants’ unlawful use and disclosure of highly confidential, individually-identifiable information about people who tested positive for HIV,” said AHF’s lawsuit against the whistleblowers and their counsel.
The AHF said that the purported information at issue centers on an online press release that included a spreadsheet generated by AHF of HIV-positive patients that lists more than 840 patients who were linked to medical care.
That information, the AHF said, was available by link within the press release for two weeks.
The link forwarded on to a patient list contains about 680 unique medical record numbers, 27 telephone numbers, 2 street addresses and 37 email addresses, in whole or part, some with names included in the email address.
The AHF said that the defendants violated HIPAA and Florida law to protect against the disclosure or publication of individuals' confidential health information. It also claims that the defendants’ continued possession of it and use of it for any reason is not authorized by the individuals whose information is on the list.
With the suit laying claims of conversion, breach of employment agreements and tortious interference with a contract, the AHF said it intends to seek expedited discovery to discern the extent of the defendants' “malfeasance” and is seeking injunctive relief, including an order prohibiting their use of the patient list.
“There is a substantial likelihood that, if not restrained, enjoined, and order to take the actions set forth in the preceding paragraph, defendants will continue using and/or disclosing AHF’s confidential and proprietary information for their benefit and to AHF’s and its patients’ harm,” the AHF said.
“Moreover, there is a substantial likelihood that, if defendants are allowed to continue to keep the patient list and other confidential and proprietary information, they will not be able to safeguard them as required by law.”
Weinstein told XBIZ in a statement that the AHF was "aghast" of the lawsuit "by three reckless former AHF employees and the law firms representing them."
“We felt duty-bound to file this lawsuit in order to secure confidential patient information and have it safely returned as well as to hold those individuals who have stolen and published this data accountable," he said. "As soon as we discovered that this data had been illegally taken, we alerted all appropriate government, health and legal authorities to address the situation, and tried to rectify this illegal breach.
“We pledge to both our patients and the public that as we continue to honor our commitment to providing optimal HIV/AIDS medical care and HIV prevention and testing services around the globe, we will redouble our efforts in protecting confidential data that individuals entrust us with.”
With the suit, the AHF is seeking an injunction, as well as compensatory damages seeking no less than $75,000 and attorneys fees.