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Former Chiefs player reaps reward in whistleblower case

By Mark Morris
The Kansas City Star

A pharmaceutical distributor has settled a federal anti-kickback lawsuit by agreeing, in part, to pay $760,000 to former Kansas City Chiefs player Dan Saleaumua and a consultant.

That money is part of an $8 million settlement that Cardinal Health Inc. of Ohio agreed to pay the U.S. government to settle the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that Cardinal offered Saleaumua and consultant Kevin Rinne an illegal $440,000 kickback so it could supply prescription drugs to seven Kansas City area Medicine Shoppe pharmacies that Saleaumua owned at the time.

Government lawyers alleged that such payments were illegal because they drove up the price of medications paid for through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“Kickback schemes subvert the health care marketplace and undermine the integrity of the choices made by consumers and providers of health care,” said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Division, in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for Cardinal said the company admitted no wrongdoing and settled only to avoid the time and expense of long litigation. Furthermore, she said, the government lost no money on the deal Cardinal made with Saleaumua and Rinne.

“The transaction did not result in the government paying more than it was obligated to pay for pharmaceuticals provided by (Saleaumua) to federal health care program beneficiaries,” said Corey Kerr, the Cardinal spokeswoman. “We strongly believe we acted appropriately and complied with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Cardinal also agreed to pay $250,000 in legal fees and expenses to the law firm of Graves, Bartle, Marcus and Garrett, which represented Saleaumua and Rinne, who brought the whistleblower lawsuit.

Under federal law, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the federal government when they see what they believe to be fraud occurring. And when such a lawsuit is successful, those private citizens can share in any settlements or jury awards.

Beginning in 2006, Saleaumua began negotiating with Cardinal to supply medicines to his pharmacies. A bidding war soon broke out between Cardinal and Saleaumus’a supplier at the time, ending with a $440,000 cash payment to Saleaumus’a company.

When the former defensive tackle explained the deal to his lawyers, two of whom are former federal prosecutors, they immediately raised a red flag, said lawyer Nathan Garrett.

“It came up in the context of a business situation,” Garrett said. “Dan and Kevin wanted no part of anything unlawful, and once they were advised that the receipt of that payment, in our opinion, constituted a federal violation, their immediate instruction was for us to make it right.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Saleaumua and Rinne were not permitted to keep Cardinal’s $440,000. According to lawyer David Marcus, who also worked on the case, that amount was deducted from the full amount to which they otherwise would have been entitled: $1.2 million, or 15 percent of the $8 million settlement.

“The clients were happy with the result,” said Marcus. “We feel it was fair and appropriate.”
Saleaumua, a former Pro Bowler, played for the Chiefs from 1989 through 1996, starting in 117 games. He played for the team in nine postseason games.

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