Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Florida Attorney Convicted of Health Care Fraud Suspended

A Tampa, Florida, attorney licensed to practice in Ohio was indefinitely suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court today based on a federal felony conviction that stemmed from health care fraud charges.

In a 4-3 per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, who was admitted to practice law in Ohio in 1993. Bereday was serving as general counsel to Wellcare Health Plan, one of Florida’s largest managed health-care providers, at the time of his misconduct. He and four other company leaders were named in an 11-count federal indictment in March 2011. After delays, Bereday pleaded guilty to one charge and was sentenced in November 2017 to six months in prison and three years of supervised release.

Justices Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined the majority opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Patrick F. Fischer concurred in part on the sanction and dissented in part, stating they would not give Bereday credit for time served under the interim suspension.

Fraud Charge Led to Federal Criminal and Civil Cases
Bereday and other Wellcare leaders were charged with conspiracy, making false statements relating to a health care benefit program, and health care fraud. In 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a separate civil complaint against Bereday and two Wellcare executives, alleging they had carried out a fraudulent scheme to deceive Florida health care agencies and investors. The complaint alleged the three improperly retained millions of dollars in health care premiums that should have been reimbursed to the state.

The federal court stayed the SEC case until the criminal case was resolved. Bereday’s case was delayed for various reasons, including his treatment for cancer. In 2017, he pleaded guilty to one charge in which he admitted he led a Wellcare subsidiary to submit a false worksheet to Florida’s Medicaid program. That false submission led to a nearly $4.5 million loss by Medicaid.

In addition to incarceration and supervised release, Bereday was fined $50,000. He then consented to a judgment against him by the SEC, which prevented him from acting as a company officer or director of an issuer of securities for five years. He also agreed to pay $3.5 million in disgorgement and a $1 million civil penalty.

Misconduct Charges Filed
The Supreme Court suspended Bereday’s license to practice law in Ohio on an interim basis in November 2017 when it learned of his federal conviction, and in March 2018, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel charged him with violations of the rules governing the conduct of attorneys practicing in Ohio.

Bereday stipulated to the charges against him, and the parties recommended to the Board of Professional Conduct that he be indefinitely suspended with credit for time served under the interim suspension. Bereday has paid all his fines and penalties.

The board agreed to the recommendation and found Bereday violated the rule prohibiting a lawyer from committing an illegal act that adversely reflects on his honesty and trustworthiness, and that he engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Board Considers Sanction
When imposing a sanction, the Court considers several factors including aggravating circumstances that could enhance a penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a less-severe punishment.

The Court stated that the board found Bereday acted with a dishonest and selfish motive, engaged in multiple offenses, and harmed Florida’s Medicaid program. The Court also noted that Bereday had no prior disciplinary record, paid $3.5 million for the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, already received criminal and civil penalties, and cooperated during the disciplinary process.

The Court majority agreed an indefinite suspension with credit for time served under the interim suspension was the appropriate sanction and that Bereday must complete his three-year supervised release before petitioning for reinstatement.

2018-1763. Disciplinary Counsel v. Bereday, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-1895.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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