Qui tam lawyer David Haron helps clients come forward
Published in 2010 Michigan Super Lawyers magazine
on September 7, 2010
Updated on September 9, 2010
In May 1993, Jeanne Byrne arrived at David Haron’s office holding a prepaid legal card, purchased at Montgomery Ward. “She happened to have a card that she paid [something] like $20 per month for, and it got her a will and free telephone calls” with select lawyers, says the Frank, Haron, Weiner & Navarro attorney from his office in Troy. “So she carried the card with my name on it in her wallet, and came to me and said, ‘This is it.’”
“It” was a 1992 New York Times article, which Byrne had brought along, about a Medicare fraud case in which she had testified before a grand jury that her former employer, National Health Laboratories, had overbilled for tests. The case ended with the lab paying a $115 million settlement.
Now, with Haron’s help, she would make similar accusations—of charging the government too much—against her current employer, another lab company. Three years later, U.S. ex rel. Jeanne Byrne v. Damon Clinical Laboratories Inc. recovered $119 million for the federal government.
Haron brought the case under the qui tam—or whistleblower—provision of the federal False Claims Act, established in 1863 to prevent fraud against the U.S. government. “It was amended in 1986, and that’s when things really started heating up,” he says. The amendments gave whistleblowers more rights, protection and compensation. “Prior to 1990, most [qui tam] cases were military-related, because that’s where the money was. When the Berlin Wall fell, we shifted away from military to health care. And now we’re back to some military because of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Since the Damon settlement was announced in 1996, Haron has devoted his practice to the False Claims Act, working in coordination with U.S. attorneys’ offices, the U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general. Because many of his cases are sealed, he can’t be specific, but he will say this: “Usually in the military area, defective products are sold and put in machines, which exposes the troops to danger.”
Haron is also an expert in Medicare and Medicaid fraud, which he estimates costs the U.S. government $100 billion annually. In April, his firm—representing two former drug representatives—and a firm with another client won a combined $75 million Medicaid fraud settlement against Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson. The plaintiffs alleged that their employer was illegally marketing Topamax for non-FDA-approved uses.
Although plaintiffs can earn between 15 and 30 percent of any monetary award in false claims actions, it’s not easy being a whistleblower. “Typically, they have made suggestions all across the management spectrum,” Haron says of his clients. “They talk to their co-workers, they talk to their supervisors, they talk to compliance departments, and they’re typically rebuffed, patronized, humiliated or ignored.
“You’re at a job. You’re not working for the government. If somebody’s cheating, you may live with it for a while. You have to take care of your family. But then the stress gets to you. Ultimately, employees [as whistleblowers] are typically terminated.”
And the stress doesn’t subside once a whistleblower brings a case. “If you’ve ever met with the FBI, even if you’re not a target, it’s not a lot of fun,” says Haron, noting that clients are often questioned by as many as 10 federal officers in one room. “I don’t care if you’re a physician or if you’re a billing clerk, it’s frightening.”
Easygoing but a straight-shooter, Haron prepares his clients for these meetings, explaining that the government might refuse to take the case. In any case, it will eventually be unsealed—a fact that doesn’t sit well with him. “These people were courageous. Why do you have to expose them?” he asks.
At press time, Haron was working to make Michigan the 28th state with its own version of the federal False Claims Act. “We already have a law that involves defrauding Medicaid in the state,” he says. “I’m trying to get a full one that will protect the state against road builders who cheat, school districts who take state money, cities who take all the TARP funding.
“We’re talking about jobs being taken away from people.”
And that’s enough to make a fraud-fighting lawyer do some whistleblowing of his own.