NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A federal judge in Nashville awarded the U.S. government $82.6 million on Thursday from three companies in a Medicare fraud case initiated by whistleblowers.
U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr. ruled that Renal Care Group, Renal Care Group Supply Co. and Fresenius Medical Care Holdings Inc. "exhibited reckless disregard of legal mandates" in billing the Medicare program for home dialysis supplies from 1999 to 2005.
Federal prosecutors said multiple Renal Care Group employees complained about the company's Medicare billings.
The Nashville-based company did not immediately respond to an email request from The Associated Press for comment on the ruling.
The company, with locations throughout Missouri, had argued that it did not violate Medicare rules because it had made disclosures to the program. Further, it said that Medicare's payments of claims showed that compliance was accepted.
Haynes wrote that the case involved claims for payment for equipment to at least 3,979 patients. Prosecutors said many of the patients have life-threatening renal disease.
Haynes also said management officials did not heed the advice of company lawyers. The $82.6 million included $43.7 million in civil penalties.
Prosecutors had argued that the defendants improperly billed Medicare by using a sham company that was not independent as mandated by regulations.
Prosecutors quoted one whistleblower, a regional manager, as saying, "I do not wish to go to jail."
The case was filed in St. Louis in 2005 and was subsequently transferred to Nashville. It was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Fresenius acquired Renal Care Group in 2006.
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