Antonio Assenza, Saddleback Casualty Insurance Company, Zephyr Cove Associates Insurance Company, AmerisourceBergen Specialty Group
Antonio Assenza and St. Lucia Airports (FCPA)
Back in 2015, we clipped an article written in Caribbean News Now [no longer available]. A journalist then wrote about a million dollar money laundering scheme involving U.S. dollars being dropped off at a St. Lucia hotel. The story read like a modern day Hemingway tale. Palm trees, Caribbean hotels, suitcases full of cash… Of course, there is really nothing romantic about money laundering.
What caught our attention was a reference to American businessman Antonio Assenza. The story lists Assenza as head of a St. Lucia construction company, Asphalt & Mining Company Limited. According to the article, Assenza was involved in the redevelopment of the Hewanorra International Airport.
The story said that someone reported that a former transportation minister from St. Lucia, Guy Joseph, offered the then prime minister a $5 million bribe in return for Assenza’s company, Asphalt & Mining Company, getting a $140 million contract for the airport project.
Fast forward to 2017. We learned today that the government of St. Lucia has asked the U.S. government for assistance in its criminal investigation of the airport project. The targets of that probe? Guy Joseph and Antonio Assenza.
Obviously, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Whether St. Lucia will even bring charges is unknown.
Our focus is on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a law that allows the SEC and Justice Department to prosecute U.S. businesses and individuals that bribe or attempt to bribe foreign government officials. Unlike the St. Lucia criminal code, the U.S. FCPA allows those with inside information about public bribery to earn huge whistleblower awards. The awards are up to 30% of whatever the government collects from the wrongdoer.
Do we believe that Asphalt & Mining Company was the only company that may have paid a bribe in St. Lucia on the Hewanorra International Airport? Heck, no. And from our investigation, Assenza has other U.S. construction business interests. If bribes are being paid, we suspect that lots of people have their hands out and many companies are only too happy to pay.
If you have information about foreign bribery schemes, call us. Even if the company is a foreign company, there may still be awards available from the U.S. For information, contact attorney Brian Mahany or report online. (See also our FCPA Foreign Bribery Information page.)
Saddleback Casualty Insurance Company & Zephyr Cove Associates Insurance Company (Abusive Tax Shelter)
OffshoreAlert reports that St. Kitts and Nevis based Saddleback Casualty Insurance Company and Zephyr Cove Associates Insurance Company are being investigated by the IRS for engaging in a possible fraudulent tax shelter scheme. The schemes allegedly targeted physicians in Louisiana.
Every year, promoters cook up new tax shelter schemes. Common ones include so-called 419 and 412 plans, Producer Owned Reinsurance Companies (PORCs) and captive insurance companies. Most of these schemes follow a common pattern. A promoter cooks up the scheme, shops around until he can find a lawyer willing to write an opinion letter, produces a glossy brochure and then markets the new product directly or dupes local accountants and insurance agents into peddle the promoter’s garbage.
Why would a local insurance agent or accountant market someone else’s product? Because the commissions are huge and the promoter convinces them its legit.
We haven’t seen the products marketed by Saddleback Casualty Insurance and Zephyr Cove Associates Insurance. We personally know the publisher of OffshoreAlert and know that his reporting is always accurate.
If the IRS is right previous trends, however, we wouldn’t be surprised to find that these companies are scams. Unfortunately, in our experience, by the time the IRS arrives on the scene, hundreds if not thousands of people have already invested their money. And often, these schemes are marketed to physicians and dentists.
The last phony insurance scheme we prosecuted involved PIWM and its promoters Tracy Sunderlage and Nikolai Battoo. Last we heard, Sunderlage was trying to convince a federal judge that he was penniless and Battoo was hiding under a rock in Switzerland trying to avoid U.S. authorities. The PIWM scheme was especially bad since not only were the plan participants subject to huge IRS penalties for investing in an abusive tax shelter (also called a Listed Transaction), they also lost their money. PIWM allegedly invested its ill-gotten gains with Bernie Madoff!
Going after the promoters is often difficult. Especially if Uncle Sam throws them in the clink. But the accountants and insurance agents that sell these products are often liable and they usually have insurance.
For more information, visit our captive insurance information page. Keep in mind, however, that captive schemes seem to constantly change. What you read may not be today’s scam.
AmerisourceBergen Specialty Group (ABSG)
AmerisourceBergen Specialty Group (ABSG) pled guilty to illegally selling misbranded cancer drugs. The company has agreed to pay a $260,000,000.00 fine. ABSG is a wholly owned subsidiary of AmerisourceBergen Corporation, one of the largest wholesale drug companies in the nation.
According to court records, AmerisourceBergen was distributing drugs from a facility not registered with the FDA. If a facility isn’t registered, it can’t be inspected and its quality controls become difficult to assess.
In announcing the conviction, an FDA spokesperson said,
“Injectable drugs prescribed for patients – especially vulnerable cancer patients – must be pure, sterile and produced in an FDA-compliant facility that is within the supply chain that FDA oversees. We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those manufacturers who would violate the public’s trust and endanger their health by attempting to avoid FDA’s oversight authority.”
Court records indicate that for 13 years, two of ABSG’s Alabama subsidiaries, Medical Initiatives Inc. (MII) and Oncology Supply Company (OSC), distributed millions of prefilled syringes. The syringes contained oncology (cancer) drugs such as Aloxi®, Anzemet®, generic versions of granisetron injection, Kytril®, Neupogen® and Procrit®.
Medical Initiatives and Oncology Supply then shipped those syringes to cancer centers, doctors’ offices and clinics. They were then dispensed to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment in all 50 states.
According to prosecutors, the AmerisourceBergen subsidiary removed FDA approved drug products from their original vials and repackaged them in individual syringes. Most vials have excess product in them making it easier for nurses and physicians to later use. By repackaging the syringes, the company could use and profit from the overfill.
While it sounds like Amerisource Bergen was simply trying to be efficient, the FDA says the process took place in an unclean, unsanitary facility; a facility that was unregistered and therefore uninspected by regulators.
Some syringes contained particulate matter that employees called “floaters.” Others were not properly filled or didn’t have enough product.
Often the drugs used by the company came in vials that were designated single use. Once the seal was breached, the remaining contents of the vial can’t be used. Company workers would sometimes use the same vial multiple times thereby threatening the sterility of its contents.
For readers not in the healthcare profession, chemo patients have severely compromised immune systems. Their bodies can have an extremely difficult time fighting off infections.
Compounding pharmacies are exempt from certain FDA repackaging rules. That doesn’t mean they are not regulated however. It is primarily the states that regulate these facilities. ABC held itself out to its customers (hospitals and clinics) as a pharmacy when they were not. Their deceit allowed them to circumvent both FDA and state regulation.
In April 2015 we wrote about the disaster at the New England Compounding Center, a compounding pharmacy in Framingham, Massachusetts. The feds arrested 14 workers after prosecutors believed that a contaminated drug packaged at the pharmacy killed up to 64 patients. The FDA says that the patients suffered from a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis.
We understand how a small mom and pop operation off the radar could wind up in so much trouble. State pharmacy regulators simply don’t have the resources that the FDA has. But why AmerisourceBergen? The company is a Fortune 50 company, one of the largest companies in the United States. Why are they trying to squeeze a couple more drips of drugs from a vial? Why are they operating an unlicensed and apparently filthy repacking plant?
The answer is simple, GREED. Like trying to squeeze a few more drops of a drug from a vial, the company (worth $136,000,000,000.00) wanted to squeeze a few more bucks of profit. And in doing so, they endangered tens of thousands vulnerable cancer patients.
Pharmaceutical Whistleblower Opportunities
Big pharma has always been at the top of our radar. We are always looking for new pharmaceutical whistleblowers.
The feds initiated the case against AmerisourceBergen on their own. Most cases come to light because of concerned healthcare workers who step forward and blow the whistle. Under the federal False Claims Act, whistleblowers who provide original source (inside) information to the government can earn an award of between 15% and 30% of whatever the government collects. In this case, that could have been an award of between $39,750,000 and $79,500,000. An award for simply doing the right thing.
If you are interested in learning more or seeking your own award, call us. Remember, however, that only whistleblowers who file a complaint under the False Claims Act can claim the percentage awards. Calling the FDA hotline won’t get you an award. You can also visit our pharmaceutical fraud whistleblower page or that of our friends at the Pharmaceutical Integrity Coalition.
Attorney Brian Mahany can be reached at 202-800-9791 or you can reach him online.