Monday, February 18, 2008

$3 billion fraud through a business that bought accounts receivables from health-care providers

The fraud trial of executives at what was once the nation's largest health-care finance company opened Thursday in Columbus with competing claims of what caused the company's multibillion-dollar collapse.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley began the National Century Financial Enterprises Inc. trial by instructing the 15 seated jurors how they should decide the fates of the five former company executives.

The government is alleging the five executives and two others who will be tried later, including National Century CEO Lance Poulsen, masterminded a $3 billion fraud through a business that bought accounts receivables from health-care providers at a discount and packaged the accounts as bond funds, which were sold to raise money to buy more accounts. The government has accused the executives of diverting $2.84 billion for their benefit.

The Dublin company collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002. The executives were later indicted on conspiracy, securities, fraud and money laundering charges. Poulsen also faces claims he tried to bribe a government witness.

"This case is about promises made, promises broken and a massive cover-up," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas W. Squires, who began the day's opening arguments.

Over the course of 25 minutes, Squires told the jury how National Century's business plan was supposed to work, then he alluded to payments the company allegedly made to health-care providers in which National Century's owners and founders - Poulsen, Donald H. Ayers and Rebecca S. Parrett - had financial interests.

In the end, Squires said the case is a simple one of fraud and cover-up.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, disputed the government's claims, stressing the complexity of everything surrounding National Century.

Brian Dickerson, attorney for the 71-year-old Ayers, said he expects the government will give jurors just a fraction of the story during the trial.

Dickerson told jurors that evidence will show Ayers, the company's chief operating officer, sunk $2 million of his money into National Century, a company he said helped hospitals and health-care facilities stay in business.

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