The Association of Black Physicians claims the federal government, including the U.S. Attorney’s office in Nevada, is targeting minority doctors by filing bogus complaints with hopes of putting the doctors in jail and out of business.
Dr. James Tate, president of the nonprofit organization in Las Vegas, said the U.S. Attorney’s office of Nevada did exactly what nine other districts have done: wrongly pursue an innocent black doctor.
Tate called a news conference Friday to discuss “the escalating vicious and unwarranted attack on black physicians nationwide.”
“They are targeted more often and with harsher penalties than their white counterparts,” Tate said.
Tate introduced Las Vegas Dr. Cyril Ovuworie as an example of the government’s agenda.
The U.S. attorney’s office filed a complaint in May 2004, alleging that Ovuworie, a nephrologists, and his company, Kappellini Medical Inc., overcharged Medicaid by classifying clients as inpatients rather than outpatients.
Attorney Lennox Hinds was able to prove that Ovuworie, who was contracted by University Medical Center to help with patients in the emergency room, had no way of determining whether the patients were inpatients or outpatients. Hinds said UMC officials told Ovuworie the clients were inpatients.
Ovuworie said the government attempted to persuade him to plead guilty to fraud and sign a plea agreement. He refused.
“I said, ‘I’m ready to pack my bags and go back to Africa,’ ” Ovuworie said Friday. “All I’m going to say is it’s been a lot for me.”
Ovuworie insisted on going to trial. On March 1, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt ruled in favor of Ovuworie. “The plaintiff has failed to prove, by preponderance of the evidence, that defendants knowingly violated the False Claims Act,” Hunt wrote in his opinion.
Tate said Hunt’s ruling showed, “one, the government never had a case; two, the government knew it never had a case; three, it pursued it in spite of the fact that it didn’t have a case.”
Tate said his association is aware of at least 30 black physicians who are under attack across the country. He provided a partial list of those doctors, but identified them using only their initials.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steve Myhre said his department pursued Ovuworie’s case on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. He said prosecutors believed they could prove that Ovuworie and his company presented false claims to Medicare for reimbursement for services.
“While we respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling, we nonetheless respect the court’s decision,” Myhre said. “During the trial there were no allegations, and the court made no findings, that the government engaged in any misconduct or that the case was brought against Dr. Ovuworie for an improper reason.”
He said the office pursues fraud cases to recover taxpayer dollars, and no other factors enter the U.S. Attorney’s decision to file charges.
“The government investigates allegations of fraud and follows the evidence wherever it leads without regard to race, religion, social status or any other improper basis,” Myhre said.