E-mail and privacy rights are in the news as Congress considers updating a 26 year-old law. That law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, allows government investigators to access and use all online documents that are older than 180 days. The law is a remnant of a world before the rise of e-mail and many defense advocates believe it is in desperate need of a refresh.
A lot has changed in 26 years. The rapid expansion of e-mail as a primary form of communication is one of the biggest developments since Congress enacted the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in 1986. When Congress drafted that bill, it could not have envisioned that people would store private messages on the Internet - as a result, the law is now problematic in the real world.
Miami and South Florida remain a central focus area in the FBI's war against healthcare fraud. A new press release from the FBI explains how it has relied on well-funded multi-office task forces to investigate and prosecute defendants here in Miami. That approach is working so well here that the authorities are expanding around the nation with similar teams.
Federal authorities had a busy two weeks. In addition to the 92 defendants charged in a $432 million healthcare fraud bust last week, the government is now pursuing 530 people for mortgage fraud. The government claims that these defendants cost 73,000 homeowner victims around $1 billion.
As another example of the extensive investigatory power available to federal authorities, a U.S. marshal connected the dots between a 1987 case and a recently arrested suspect. In this case, however, the authorities made the connection after a simple Google search. The defendant, a Harvard law graduate and former army intelligence captain who disappeared in 1984, will now face federal fraud charges.
The American Bar Association reports that many of the defendants in mortgage and real-estate fraud prosecutions are lawyers. As a state that experienced a particularly painful real estate meltdown in recent years, several Florida lawyers figure prominently in the report.
A group of small-town ambulance volunteers face a federal prosecution. New charges claim that the group enriched itself by submitting fraudulent billing for unnecessary services. The team of volunteers allegedly defrauded Medicare of around $880,000.
The U.S. attorney's office struck a deal with a Miami defendant this week, reducing his prison sentence in exchange for cooperation in a larger fraud prosecution. The defendant pled guilty to laundering funds as part of a massive health care fraud network.
According to some estimates, fraudulent healthcare claims account for nearly 10 percent of Medicaid and Medicare spending every year. New provisions in the Affordable Care Act arm government investigators with smarter enforcement tools to help them combat Medicare fraud.
Recently, health care fraud has been getting more attention throughout the country. Consequently, prosecutors have been putting more resources into pursuing these types of cases. As this focus increases, we will likely see an increase in the number of these cases brought, and more aggressive pursuit of large settlements from those accused of these crimes.