When you're a child, tattling can get you in trouble. But when you're a grown-up recently indicted on federal fraud charges, it can save you time in prison.
While it isn't known if three Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. executives indicted in July for Medicare fraud are prepared to help the government nail other company higher-ups, it won't be a big surprise if they do.
"In my experience, I've never seen a white-collar individual who has been charged in an indictment elect to place his loyalties with the higher-level management over his family," said Robert Griffith, a former assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, now in private practice at Schwartz, Shaw & Griffith in Boston.
But talking to the government won't mean get-out-of-jail-free cards for the three executives, indicted last month for conspiring to submit false cost reports to Medicare and another federal program (Aug. 4, p. 2).
Those charged were Robert Whiteside, 47, director of reimbursement at Columbia's Nashville headquarters; Jay A. Jarrell, 42, chief executive officer of Columbia's southwest Florida division; and Michael T. Neeb, 35, chief financial officer of Columbia's north Florida division. If convicted, any assistance they might provide will reduce their sentences only slightly, said Rebekah Poston, head of the white-collar crime division at Miami law firm Steel, Hector & Davis .
The definition of "substantial assistance" in central Florida federal courts has meant the information provided must result in conviction of other defendants. Each of the three faces a maximum of about $1.25 million in fines and 25 years in prison.
The severity of fines and prison time correspond to a point system in the federal sentencing guidelines.
Michael Seigel, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said a convicted person can get a two-point reduction if he provides information in his own case and is prepared to testify against a co-defendant. A convicted felon can get a four-point reduction if the information provided helps bring charges against another person.
Even so, the point reduction won't let a serious offender off the hook. For example, if a convicted person scores 20 points and is a first-time offender, he or she faces between 33 and 41 months in jail. But if the person is able to get a two-point reduction, the score is dropped to 18 points, which means 27 to 33 months in prison.
But making a deal with the government raises questions of credibility for the would-be witnesses, said J. Alan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh now in private practice.
When that happens, a defense attorney's argument is simple: "You're influenced to say it because you got a deal," Johnson said.