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Dig Investigative nuggets from the staff of Reveal

California’s Prime Healthcare to pay $65 million to settle Medicare fraud lawsuit

Prime Healthcare Services will pay $65 million to settle a federal whistleblower lawsuit that accused the fast-growing California hospital chain of engineering a wide-ranging Medicare fraud scheme.

The settlement, announced Friday by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, requires Dr. Prem Reddy, Prime’s founder and the alleged architect of a scheme to pump up its Medicare billings, to pay $3.25 million of the settlement out of his own pocket.

Prime also must abide by a five-year “corporate integrity agreement” that requires the company to hire independent consultants to verify its Medicare billings, records show.

Federal scrutiny of Prime’s billing practices began after a 2011 investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting that highlighted multimillion-dollar anomalies in the chain’s billings to the federal Medicare program.

Prime, headquartered in San Bernardino County, is among the nation’s largest hospital chains. With an affiliated nonprofit foundation, it runs 45 hospitals in 14 states. In agreeing to the settlement, the company did not admit wrongdoing.

“There was no finding of improper conduct or wrongdoing of any kind by Prime Healthcare,” the company said in a statement.

“Prime Healthcare’s exemplary record of clinical quality care was never in question. This matter dealt with the technical classification of the category under which patients were admitted and billed.”

The whistleblower lawsuit was filed in 2011 by Karin Berntsen, a nurse and risk management director at Prime’s Alvarado Hospital in San Diego County. She claimed personal knowledge of the chain’s efforts to boost its bottom line with false billings and improper hospital admissions. In 2016,... Read More >

The Hate Report: How survivors tell the story of hate in America

During the 2016 presidential election, Arjun Singh Sethi became worried about the state of hate in America.

There was a wave of assaults, vandalism and attacks on places of worship. People across the country, he saw, were being targeted on the basis of who they were and what they believed. Something important, and deeply disturbing, was happening, yet he felt the issue wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.

That realization drove Sethi, a professor of human rights law at the Georgetown University Law Center, to spend the subsequent year and a half traveling the country, conducting in-depth interviews with the survivors of hate. Those conversations form the basis of his new book, “American Hate.”

Amid flickers of hope, Sethi paints a bleak, often dispiriting, picture of how hate manifests itself and leaves a path of emotional and physical destruction in its wake. It’s a hard read, but an essential one for anyone looking to understand America in 2018.

In this week’s Hate Report, we talk to Sethi about how the criminal justice system is failing survivors, the invisible victims of hate and the discrimination he personally experienced while researching the book.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell me about some of the people you profiled in your book?

Khalid Jabara was an Arab American who lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His now-convicted murderer (Stanley Vernon Majors) for years had been harassing and disparaging the Jabara family, calling them things like, “dirty Arabs” or “ISIS.”

Majors ran over Khalid’s mother... Read More >

Judge orders government to release immigrant kids from troubled shelter

A judge has ordered the federal government to stop drugging immigrant children without proper consent and to remove them from a problem-plagued south Texas shelter.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee’s ruling Monday orders the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to move immigrant children out of the Shiloh Treatment Center near Manvel, Texas, and into less restrictive housing unless a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist determines that a child “poses a risk of harm to self or others.”

The judge’s order, issued in a federal court in California as part of a long-running class-action case, affects about 25 immigrant children held at Shiloh, a collection of small buildings and trailers on rural land south of Houston with a troubled history.

Shiloh has contracted with the federal government to house immigrant children labeled as “special needs minors” since 2013. Last year, the most lucrative yet under its agreement, Shiloh collected $5.6 million.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting first reported on the allegations of forced drugging at Shiloh last month. Children have described being held down and injected with psychotropic drugs, according to federal court filings.

It’s unclear whether children at Shiloh were part of a larger group separated from their parents at the border because they are not the only children in custody. Thousands of children who were detained after they arrived unaccompanied are also covered by a federal court case known as the Flores lawsuit.

Monday’s ruling... Read More >

Redding confronts a deadly pattern: A history of wildfires and development in high-fire-risk areas

Wildfires are once again claiming homes and lives in a Northern California city that has pushed into wildfire-prone areas.

The Carr fire near Redding fits a deadly pattern, sharing traits of the firestorm that destroyed thousands of homes and killed dozens last year in Sonoma and Napa counties.

Since 1947, more than two dozen fires have burned in the same area as the Carr fire. Most of the area surrounding Redding has been rated as a very high fire hazard, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Redding, like the Santa Rosa area, has also grown over the past few decades. The city has pushed into the Northern California wilderness, placing homes among oak trees and flammable chaparral outside of town. Many of those homes now wait in the fire’s path.

Credit: Eric Sagara/Reveal
Sources: Cal Fire, USGS, Google, U.S. Census Bureau

Already, dozens of buildings have been destroyed in the fire, which started on July 23 near Whiskeytown Lake, northwest of Redding. On Thursday night and Friday morning, the fire pushed into the city of Redding, which has a population of nearly 92,000.

The death toll so far includes at least two emergency responders, according to the Sacramento Bee. A private bulldozer operator died Thursday while working in an area where the fire was active. A Redding firefighter was also killed, authorities announced Friday morning.

Three more firefighters were hospitalized for burns to their ears, face and hands they received while protecting buildings from the 44,000-acre fire.

Fire officials estimated Friday morning that 65 buildings... Read More >

The Hate Report: The last few weeks have been violent  

In this week’s roundup: A deadly few weeks in hate, the many facets of a once-benign hand gesture, and Charlottesville 2.0.

In recent weeks, people have been injured and murdered in violent assaults that have been potentially linked to hate.

Here are some of the incidents we’ve been following:

  • MeShon Cooper, a black Kansas woman, was found dead earlier this month. After being arrested, Robert Lee Kidwell told law enforcement officials he killed Cooper because she threatened to expose his HIV-positive status. However, Kidwell’s estranged daughter, Crystal Foster, tells a different story. Foster told the Kansas City Star that Kidwell has long been active in white supremacist groups and has a history of befriending African Americans before ultimately attacking them. “He’s been a monster his whole life,” Foster said. “He’s the true definition of evil.”
  • Murder charges have been filed against John Cowell for fatally stabbing an 18-year-old black woman, Nia Wilson, at a train station in Oakland. Cowell allegedly attacked Wilson and her sister with a knife. While Wilson’s motive in the unprovoked attack hasn’t been established, there’s been widespread speculation that racism may have played a role in the slaying. “Although investigators currently have no evidence to conclude that this tragedy was racially motivated or that the suspect was affiliated with any hate groups,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement, “the fact that his victims were both young African American women stirs deep pain and palpable fear in all of us who acknowledge the reality that our country still... Read More >

Study finds high-skilled immigrants benefit economy as Trump moves to make lives more difficult

The more high-skilled immigrants a firm has, the more innovative it is likely to be, according to new research. The study comes on the heels of a recent move by the Trump administration to quicken denials of high-skilled work visas.

The study found that companies with more highly skilled workers on H1-B visas were quicker to phase out older, obsolete products and replace them with newer products. This process, called product reallocation, is widely regarded as a measure of innovation, said Gaurav Khanna, a co-author of the report. Khanna is an assistant professor of economics at the University of California San Diego.

This has wider implications for the U.S. economy, said Khanna, whose study analyzed a decade’s worth of immigration and product rollout data by companies. It was published as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

H-1B visas are temporary visas requested by American employers to bring foreigners with specific skills that are in short supply in the United States. To obtain this visa, a worker must have at least a bachelor’s degree. According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security last year, almost 70 percent of H1-B visas went to workers in computer-related occupations such as software engineering, web development and information technology. Workers of Indian origin accounted for almost 75 percent of these visas.

The work adds to the accumulating literature that shows that high-skilled immigrants have been contributing to U.S. economic growth and innovation, and that’s particularly true for high tech, said William Lincoln, an... Read More >

The Hate Report and Kids on the Line: Hate doesn’t stop at the border

In this week’s roundup: Alongside the chaos unfolding at the nation’s borders, hate has continued to flow toward immigrants across the country. This week, we are combining two of our newsletters to track this: The Hate Report and Kids on the Line.

With the country’s eyes focused on the crisis unfolding at America’s borders, where immigrant children were being separated from their families and, in some cases in Phoenix, even housed in office buildings, hate has continued to flow toward immigrants in America.

In late June, just as the border controversy was heating up, the leader of a fraternity council at Texas Tech University had to step down after it was revealed that he had shared messages in a group chat suggesting that they “hunt” illegal border crossers.

Inside Higher Ed reports that Kyle Mitchell, the Interfraternity Council president, declared the “hunting” would create “a new ‘sport’ and ‘tax revenue stream’ for the government.”

Also last month in Chicago, a man unleashed a racist tirade against 24-year-old Mia Irizarry for wearing a T-shirt featuring the Puerto Rican flag. As a police officer stood by, apparently ignoring Irizarry’s pleas for help, 62-year-old Timothy Trybus shouted at Irizarry, “You shouldn’t be wearing that,” and “You’re not going to change us.”

Irizarry, who had a permit to be at the park and was trying to celebrate her birthday, posted a video of the attack on Facebook. It quickly went viral. After public outcry, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office filed felony hate crime charges against Trybus. The officer... Read More >

Contractor clears out Phoenix office where it held immigrant children

Hours after a Reveal investigation was published, a government defense contractor cleared out the Phoenix office space where it had detained immigrant children, where some were held overnight and others were seen bathing in office sinks.

Two Arizona lawmakers also called on the state to immediately investigate whether Virginia-based MVM Inc. is violating state law in keeping children in unlicensed office buildings, with one vowing to sponsor a new state law to halt the practice. MVM has a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transport immigrant children to airports and shelters across the nation.

Their statement came in reaction to a letter sent last week by a top state official claiming “children in the custody of the federal government, being transported by the federal government, to a temporary facility would not meet the statutory definition of child care and therefore would not require a license.”

MVM is the primary transportation contractor for the federal government’s court-ordered efforts to reunify families separated under President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy. ICE has filed a plan of operations for the reunification of families whose children are ages 5 to 17. In it, the agency says it will “coordinate with MVM to dispatch” those families.

However, an investigation by Reveal has raised questions about MVM’s treatment of children. The company has detained dozens of children, including some separated from their parents, in leased office spaces that have no kitchens, bedrooms, showers or yards.  

One teenager transported to a Phoenix office site by MVM ran... Read More >

Exclusive: Immigrant kids held in second Phoenix office seen bathing in sinks

A defense contractor that held immigrant children overnight in a Phoenix office building operates a second office nearby, where a neighbor has seen immigrant children bathing themselves in bathroom sinks, Reveal has learned.

The company, MVM Inc., is the primary transportation contractor for the federal government’s court-ordered efforts to reunify families separated under President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy. On Sunday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed a plan of operations in federal court for the reunification of families whose children are ages 5 to 17. In it, the agency says it will “coordinate with MVM to dispatch” those families.

After Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting published a story about the company housing children overnight in a Phoenix office building, MVM acknowledged that it also houses minors overnight in a second office building nearby. That building is on 20th Street, less than a mile away.

From the outside, MVM’s 20th Street office shares some features with the other office on Osborn Road: a nondescript, unmarked one-level office with dark tinted windows. It’s surrounded by a concrete parking lot – with no area for outdoor play – and is on a busy street near the airport.

Bill Weaver, an insurance executive who used to lease the 20th Street space now occupied by MVM, told Reveal that for the past two years, he’s seen children from babies to teenagers come through the office.

“They operate six 12-passenger vans,” he... Read More >

First family reunited in detention center may be separated again

A 9-year-old Brazilian migrant child reunited this week with his father at the Berks detention facility in Leesport, Pennsylvania, could once again be separated from his father, who is going through a fast-track deportation process without him, according to sources at a law firm representing them.

Bridget Cambria, an attorney at immigration law firm Cambria & Kline, said that this is the first case she has heard of where a previously separated family has been reunited with a child at a family detention facility. The case is at Berks Family Residential Center, the smallest and longest-running facility in the country – one of only three centers in the U.S. that detain undocumented children with their parents.

Cambria said her firm recently saw a 16-year-old boy released from the same Chicago shelter as the 9-year-old reunited with his family – but authorities let the 16-year-old finish the case proceedings with his family from a home. In this case, the 9-year-old has been detained at Berks.

“There was no justification for the difference in why one would be detained, why one would not,” she said. “The only indication we received was, ‘we have space for the 9-year-old, but the 16-year-old, we can’t fit.’ ”

Reached for comment, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said she would need additional information to look into the case and that, because the request came on Friday after business hours, she would not have a response until tomorrow.

According to Cambria, the boy was brought from a Chicago... Read More >

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