On June 14, 2013, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, along with local police and sheriffs’ deputies raided a Longwood, Florida, pain management clinic. In addition to criminal charges, the physicians and employees associated with this clinic face another lesser known threat, the civil forfeiture of their money and property. During the raid agents took everything from the clinic that could help them build a criminal prosecution. This included paper records, computer equipment and prescription drugs. In addition to the Longwood pain management clinic, DEA agents also searched homes in Brevard County, Florida, where associates of the Longwood clinic allegedly live. To read more on the raid, click here.
This is just one example. Recently we’ve noticed that it is becoming more common for government prosecutors and agencies, including the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and local sheriff and police departments to use the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act against health professionals and health facilities in health-related cases.
The Difference Between Criminal and Civil Forfeiture Laws.
There are two types of forfeiture laws, criminal and civil. Criminal forfeiture laws allow the seizure of property only after a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, civil forfeiture laws allow the government to gain possession of a person’s property immediately and without any determination of guilt.
Property is Subject to Forfeiture if Criminally Derived.
Under the idea that the property is itself guilty by association, federal and local law enforcement authorities may take your property without convicting or arresting you, putting the burden on you to prove that property was not associated with a criminal enterprise. The property seized does not have to belong to the alleged bad actor or criminal. This can occur because civil forfeiture is a civil lawsuit against property. The legal action has less to do with a person’s guilt and more to do with the property’s use as an instrumentality in a crime. If the property has been used in association with or to aid criminal acts, the property is subject to civil forfeiture proceedings.
This is what the physicians and employees of the Longwood clinic are now facing. While these individuals’ homes and property may not be directly associated with criminal activity, the government is still arguing that the property is subject to forfeiture because the money used to buy it was “criminally derived.”
Fighting Civil Forfeiture.
We believe the main purpose in the government’s use of civil forfeitures is to shut down the alleged criminal and make it so he or she cannot hire an attorney to defend the person(s) accused. This does, unfortunately, often work. However, a prompt, aggressive defense to these actions may recover the property or funds seized and, more importantly, a good defense can be used to help resolve any pending criminal charges.
The key to success in civil forfeiture actions is to immediately consult with an experienced attorney after the property has been seized. Your best defense is to act as quickly as possible. To read more what defenses can be used to fight civil forfeiture, click here for a previous blog.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Civil Forfeiture Cases.
The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, mental health counselors and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, civil forfeitures, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
What do you think of the Civil Forfeiture Act being used against health care professionals and health facilities? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
About the Author: Christopher E. Brown, J.D., is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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