In Abingdon, Virginia, U.S. District Attorney Janine Myatt is seeking the forfeiture of ambulances and other squad vehicles from a volunteer rescue services organization:
A federal judge is considering whether the Saltville Rescue Squad has to give up cash and property to cover the cost of a health-care fraud scheme, even though a jury has exonerated the volunteer group of the crime.
On Monday, prosecutors tried to show how the squad benefited from the illegal actions of its former president, Eddie Wayne Louthian, convicted in September of bilking Medicare and private insurers out of nearly $1 million. He will be sentenced Dec. 20.U.S. District Judge James P. Jones said he will issue a ruling on whether prosecutors can recoup the lost money as well as whether a protective order limiting access to portions of the squad’s bank account and the sale and use of some property should remain in effect. He did not say when he planned to render a decision.
Louthian’s defense attorney, Michael Khouri, pointed out that most of the targeted assets belong to the squad.
“The forfeiture issues are the squad’s problem and not Mr. Louthian’s,” he told the judge while reading the prosecution’s list.
Neither the squad nor its lawyers appeared at Monday’s hearing because they have not been considered a party to the case ever since they were acquitted at the September trial.
Yet, a motion filed Sunday shows that prosecutors are eyeing $330,616 from the squad’s bank account, three ambulances, several trucks and emergency equipment.
“Simple accounting and common sense indicate the Squad could not have acquired these new major assets but for its receipt of the fraud proceeds,” the motion states. “While the Squad was acquitted of criminal wrongdoing, such does not entitle it to retain a $900,000 windfall.”
This action by the US Attorney implies that no corporate asset is safe from forfeiture even in the event of a jury acquittal. It also implies that the US Attorney has a theory of justice that is far more expansive than that of judge (who might set a criminal sentence including restitution from Mr. Louthain) or a jury (which found the Saltville Rescue Squad corporation innocent of the fraud). It’s hard to imagine what public service or notion of justice might be served here; after all, the best possible thing the US attorney could do with a fleet of ambulances is probably give it to some local nonprofit that could put the vehicles to some use. However, it’s probably hard for the US Attorney to be impartial here: the proceeds from the bank account and fleet of vehicles will be disbursed to the US Attorney’s Asset Forfeiture Fund.
Again, this situation is very unique. But I think it highlights the bizarre actions of a government agency that now includes “profit” in its definition of “justice”. And it should also concern people for the reason that these kinds of forfeiture proceedings are now increasingly seen as enforcement tactics for all manner of regulatory frameworks in a diversity of industries.