Jury Awards The City Of Compton Over $3 Million on False Billing Lawsuit
On October 6, 2010 the trial team of Galen Gentry, Areva Martin and Tina Fisher obtained a jury verdict in excess of three million dollars for the City of Compton. Read the LA Times article by Abby Sewell and Ann Simmons http://articles.latimes.com/2010/oct/07/local/la-me-1007-compton-fraud-20101008
After a month long proceeding, the jury found that Stephen Okonta, the former City of Compton Risk Manager and Worker’s Compensation Department Coordinator conspired separately with a marriage and family therapist named Aline Smith and an individual named Emmanuel Ogbodo to submit bills for health care services that were never actually rendered.
The City sought damages against Mr. Okonta and Ms. Smith pursuant to the California False Claims Act (CFCA). The jury’s verdict against Mr. Okonta was $1,624440.16 The jury found Ms. Smith liable for $929,431.16. The City also sued Ms. Smith under common law fraud. The jury found that Ms. Smith was liable for $594,748.16 on the fraud cause of action.
The City sought $695,009 in damages under the CFCA from Mr. Ogbodo who submitted bills under the name Oliver-Carr. Mr. Ogbodo withdrew his answer on the first day of trial. The trial team for the City has requested the court to enter a default judgment against Mr. Ogbodo and the application is pending.
The City’s attorneys will move the Court for an order tripling the damages against the defendants for the violations of the California False Claims Act as required by the Act.
The defense had argued that the case was a vendetta; that city officials were angry with Smith and Okonta for allegedly mishandling City business. The jury found that the case was not about vendettas or personality conflicts but about fraud. The jury was uninanimous on all questions asked of it on the special verdict against Mr. Okonta. They found he knowingly submitted false claims and conspired with others to submit false claims. Mr. Okonta testified at trial that he knew Mr. Ogbodo and Ms. Smith for over 20 years at the time the fraud was discovered. He had brought both Ms. Smith and Mr. Ogbodo’s Oliver Carr entity on as medical care providers for the City’s worker’s compensation system.
At trial Galen Gentry examined dozens of employees who insisted they had not made the visits in question to Westchester or Oliver-Carr. Ms. Smith testified that she did not need to see the patients to bill the City’s worker’s compensation department because she used facts from their files to prepare studies for the city. However, the Gentry’s expert witness, Steven Bucky, PhD flatly refuted Smith’s testimony.
Dr. Bucky noted that Smith’s bills all included a “description” a “date of exam” and a “fee.” Bucky testified that it was inappropriate to bill for services on a worker’s compensation applicant’s claims file when the patient was not actually seen. Bucky also testified that Smith’s bills noted multiple instances in which she supposedly gave various pyshological diagnostic tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Thermatic Apperception Test over and over again to the same employee. Dr. Bucky said it would never be appropriate to give the tests as many times as Ms. Smith billed for them.
As for Mr. Ogbodo all the City’s checks made payable to “Oliver Carr Medical Group” were actually deposited into an account opened by Emmanuel Ogbodo under the name “Oliver Carr Medical Management.” Mr. Ogbodo was not a medical provider of any sort. Instead, he had once worked as an office manager and marketer for a medical provider that operated under the name Oliver-Carr Medical Group. Desmond Fletcher, the present Worker’s Compensation Coordinator for the City testified that other than bills there were no documents relating to Oliver Carr Medical Group in the department’s files–no medical reports, records of treatment or even referrals from the worker’s comp department Oliver-Carr.
Charles Evans, the former risk manager and city manager testified that Mr. Okonta was the person authorized to pay the bills for medical providers to the City’s Worker’s Comp Department and was the person responsible for ensuring the accuracy and honesty of the bills.
Galen Gentry said after the trial “It was a long, hard trial. I respect my opposing counsel. They are both fine lawyers. The collective intelligence of a jury is really something. After the trial I was very interested as the jurors explained to me what they saw as important. The jury got it right. The case was about overbilling, not politics or personal animosity.”
Gentry added ” With so much recent news about the misdeeds of various California city officials it would seem that the actions of the City of Compton to root out fraud would be lauded by the media and the public. I hope that the people of the Compton can see this case for what it is and be proud of their city officials for bringing it.”