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American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Judge Sets Columbia/HCA Trial for October

According to a story circulated by the Associated Press, a judge in Florida has ruled that three former Columbia/HCA Health Care Corporation middle managers, the first people indicted as part of a sweeping federal fraud investigation, will face trial in October,1998. The judge has not yet set a specific date.

The judge, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew, agreed with a defense request to move the case from Fort Myers, where the indictment was issued, to Tampa, about 160 miles to the north, for the 10-week trial. The judge and most of the attorneys on the case are based in Tampa, and the city was considered more accessible to witnesses coming from all over the country.

Until now, U.S. District Judge Lee Gagliardi has been hearing pretrial sessions in Fort Myers, but he hears Florida cases only in winter and is ill right now. Judge Bucklew said she or a visiting judge would hear the trial in Tampa.

Columbia has been the target of a wide-ranging investigation by the U.S. government and at least 11 states. The Nashville-based company has been accused of overcharging Medicare, Medicaid, and other government health programs.

The Fort Myers indictment named Robert Whiteside of Brentwood, TN, a Nashville-based compensation director; Jay Jarrell of Fort Myers, chief executive officer of Columbia's southwest Florida division; and Michael Neeb of Jacksonville, the division's former chief financial officer.

The executives with the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain were accused of overbilling federal health care programs by at least $1.8 million. All three men have pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy, fraud, and making false statements. If convicted, they could face up to 25 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

The next hearing in the case was set for August 12.