Jury seated in likely lengthy WellCare trial
TAMPA - The defense lawyers and their assistants outnumbered the jury chosen late Monday afternoon to try the case of four high-ranking executives who prosecutors say bilked Florida Medicare out of millions of dollars between 2003 and 2007. Attorneys filled three tiers of defense tables inside the 13th floor courtroom in the downtown federal courthouse Monday morning. The defendants, all former executives with WellCare, were well represented. Thirteen defense attorneys and helpers sat amid a garden of computer screens, laptops and iPads. The court's mission of the day: Select a jury to hear the case.The problem: The trial is expected to last three months. That means jurors will have give up their regular lives during that time to be in court four days a week. Fridays, the judge told them, they could have to themselves. In the end, success. A four-man, eight-woman jury was sworn in late Monday afternoon. They will sit on a case in which the prosecution's witness list alone includes more than 170 names. The judge also picked four alternate jurors, some of whom likely will be called up because it is expected the length of the trial will result in a juror casualty or two. Several prospective jurors said serving on a jury for three months would present a financial hardship because they were sole providers or worked at places that would not pay their salaries during extended jury duty. In more than 10 cases, U.S. District Judge James Moody agreed, and let people leave. A handful of others were excused for medical reasons or because they were taking college classes and risked losing tuition or flunking the courses. The defendants include former WellCare CEO Todd Farha and former chief financial officer Paul Behrens. The other two former executives on trial are William Kale, once vice president of Harmony Behavioral Health, a WellCare subsidiary; and Peter Clay, who was vice president of medical economics. A fifth defendant, former WellCare general counsel Thaddeus Bereday, will stand trial separately later this year. A federal indictment charges them with multiple counts of medical fraud, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors say they walked away with millions of dollars sin stock options after they left the company a few months after FBI agents raided the WellCare headquarters in Tampa. WellCare deals exclusively with Medicare and Medicaid claims, and the government says the executive staff defrauded Medicaid by producing false documents — and forming a shell company — to inflate the costs for behavioral health care services it provided. Attorneys for the former WellCare executives say the allegations rose out of a long-running disagreement between Agency for Health Care Administration and WellCare over reporting expenditures. Opening arguments are scheduled for 8:45 a.m. today.
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