Physician Sentenced For Defrauding Medicare

  Nov. 24, 2015 -- A Detroit-area physician who led and directed a multi-million-dollar Medicare fraud scheme through his medical practice was sentenced today to 72 months in prison.
   Dr. Hicham A. Elhorr, 48, of Dearborn, Michigan, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of the Eastern District of Michigan. In addition to imposing the prison term, Judge Edmunds ordered Elhorr to pay $2,073,108.16 in restitution.
   According to admissions in his plea agreement, from approximately August 2008 through September 2012, Elhorr and his coconspirators fraudulently billed Medicare $4.2 million for purported in-home physician services. Elhorr admitted that he employed unlicensed individuals through his visiting physician practice, House Calls Physicians PLLC, who held themselves out as licensed physicians and purported to provide physician home visits and other services to Medicare beneficiaries in Michigan. The unlicensed individuals prepared medical documentation that Elhorr and other licensed physicians signed as if they had performed the visits when, in fact, no licensed physicians had treated the beneficiaries.
   The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan. The case was prosecuted by former Assistant Chief Catherine K. Dick and Trial Attorneys Matthew C. Thuesen and F. Turner Buford of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
  The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan, Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) made the announcement.
  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force  operates in nine cities across the country and has charged approximately 2,300 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $7 billion since its inception in 2007.

Genetic Information on Diabetes Made Available

   (NIH) - 10/15/2015 -Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH) have expanded a recently launched online library, called a knowledge portal, which allows open-access searching of human genetic and clinical information on type 2 diabetes. Individual data will remain confidential. The portal includes information from several major international networks, collected from decades of research.
   A product of the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) for type 2 diabetes, the portal is aimed at advancing type 2 diabetes research and treatment, and will include data from over 100,000 genetic samples obtained from clinical consortia supported by the NIH and FNIH. AMP is an innovative project of government, industry and nonprofit organizations working together to speed research in type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
   “Through AMP, we have an unprecedented opportunity to advance international research in type 2 diabetes,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “Our hope is that this portal – and this partnership – will lead to better disease targets and a shorter, less expensive drug development process, enabling companies to get safe and effective medications to patients who need them faster.”
   The portal collects data from human genetic samples, since the animal and cellular models that are typically used in diabetes drug development before human testing do not always replicate human behavior. The portal provides a way to identify the most promising therapeutic targets for diabetes from troves of potentially relevant human data.
   “The knowledge portal will allow us to translate differences in an individual’s genome into an understanding of how those differences affect a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. By harnessing the power of international data sets, we can also better account for differences in race, ethnicity and locality,” said Philip Smith, Ph.D., of the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Smith is co-chair of AMP’s Type 2 Diabetes Steering Committee.
   The knowledge portal makes genetic and clinical information searchable in myriad ways, while keeping individual data confidential, to help researchers identify and describe the effects of genes on disease. Searches can include genes, gene variants and genetic regions, and can be cross-referenced with associations between glucose and insulin measurements and other criteria. The data can be sorted to include relevant genetic studies and the kind of data collected, and allows researchers to test biological hypotheses, and conduct many other analyses.
   The portal is publicly searchable and can be used as a tool to learn about genetics and health. However, only approved researchers will be able to access detailed data, while the general public can access aggregate results. Creators of the research engine are eager to expand the network to include more national and international research networks. The international source samples of genetic and clinical data will be housed in their home networks to ensure use of each sample complies with each country’s health information confidentiality rules.
   The portal’s creation was led by David Altshuler, M.D., Ph.D., while at Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in Cambridge. Jose Florez, M.D., Ph.D., also from Broad Institute, and Michael Boehnke, Ph.D., and Goncalo Abecasis, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, were awarded respective grants from NIDDK (U01 DK105554) and FNIH, to continue the portal’s development. The FNIH grant to the University of Michigan supports portal infrastructure and expanded development of analytical tools.
   The portal team will work closely with Broad Institute’s Daniel MacArthur, Ph.D., and Benjamin Neale, Ph.D., who will lead a Center for Genome Interpretation (U54 DK105566) to develop methods to analyze the genomic data collected in the portal.
   “Type 2 diabetes is among our country’s and the world’s greatest and most costly health problems. In the United States alone, the disease affects more than 29 million people, with an additional 79 million more at high risk,” said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers. “We need more targeted drug therapies to treat type 2 diabetes. While multiple drugs are available to stabilize the disease, people still progress to complications including heart and kidney diseases.”
   In addition to NIH, support for the AMP Type 2 Diabetes project includes pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly and Company; Janssen Research and Development, LLC; Merck & Co.; Pfizer Inc.; and Sanofi US Services and the not-for-profit organizations FNIH, JDRF International and the American Diabetes Association. Support from these sources funds awards made by the FNIH directly to awardees institutions. Additional support to Broad Institute for the portal is provided by the Carlos Slim Foundation.
   The NIDDK, part of the NIH, conducts and supports basic and clinical research and research training on some of the most common, severe and disabling conditions affecting Americans. The Institute's research interests include: diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutrition, and obesity; and kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases. For more information, visit
   Source: National Institutes of Health

Former PD Employee Indicted for Fraud, ID Theft

   TAMPA, Fla. -- 9/22/2015 - United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III recently announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Tonia Bright with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of obtaining information from a protected computer, and four counts of aggravated identity theft related to her involvement in a stolen identity refund fraud (SIRF) scheme.
   If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge, five years in federal prison on each of the computer intrusion offenses, and a 2-year term of imprisonment for each aggravated identity theft count that would be served consecutively to the sentence imposed on the other counts
    The indictment also notifies Bright that the United States intends to seek a forfeiture money judgment equal to the proceeds of the offenses.
    According to the indictment, Bright was a civilian employee of the Tampa Police Department (TPD) working as a community service officer in the District 3 station. As part of her duties, Bright took reports from citizens related to incidents not requiring the response of a sworn police officer. In this capacity, she had access to local, state, and federal law enforcement databases, including the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computerized index. Her use of these databases was restricted to the performance of her authorized duties.
    As part of the conspiracy, Bright allegedly accessed the personally identifiable information (PII) of individuals using a variety of sources, including NCIC, despite having no legitimate law enforcement purpose for doing so. She then provided the stolen PII to others, including Tampa resident Rita Girven, knowing that the information would be used to commit crimes. Girven and others used the stolen PII to electronically file, and cause others to file, fraudulent federal income tax returns claiming tax refunds that they were not entitled to. The fraudulently obtained tax refunds were deposited onto reloadable debit cards, issued in the conspirators’ names and the names of others, including the identity theft victims’ names. Girven and others then used the debit cards at retail establishments and ATMs to withdraw the funds and shared in the proceeds.
    Girven previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 20, 2015.
    An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
    The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, the Tampa Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mandy Riedel.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Undiagnosed Disease Network Portal Launched

   (NIH) - 9/20/2015 - The Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN), a clinical research initiative of the National Institutes of Health, has opened an online patient application portal called the UDN Gateway. Introduction of this application system sets the stage for the network to advance its core mission: to diagnose patients who suffer from conditions that even skilled physicians have been unable to diagnose despite extensive clinical investigation. These diseases are difficult for doctors to diagnose because they are rarely seen, have not previously been described or are unrecognized forms of more common diseases. 
   The new system streamlines the application process. All applications for the UDN will go through the Gateway, rather through individual clinical sites in the network. The Gateway replaces what had previously been a paper-and-mail application process for the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP), which is now part of the UDN.
   “Although undiagnosed conditions present an array of challenges for clinicians, once identified, they may lead to treatments for individual patients. They also may lead to new, generalizable medical insights,” said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH’s Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI), which provides financial support and joint leadership for the network via the NIH Common Fund. “The UDN Gateway will provide patients and their families access to the nation’s leading diagnostic teams and sophisticated diagnostic tools.”
   The UDN grew out of both the success of the Undiagnosed Diseases Program at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Since its 2008 launch, the UDP has reviewed more than 3,100 applications from patients around the world. More than 800 patients have been enrolled for a one-week evaluation. While approximately 25 percent of those have received some level of clinical, molecular or biochemical diagnosis, many patients remain undiagnosed.
   By adding six additional clinical sites to the original NIH UDP, the UDN will broaden its diagnostic expertise while expanding the opportunity for patients to participate. These additional clinical sites are:
   -- Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.
   -- Duke Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, with Columbia University, New York City.
   -- Harvard Teaching Hospitals (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital    Massachusetts General Hospital), Boston.
   -- Stanford Medical Center, Stanford, California.
   -- University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center.
   -- Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee.    By the summer of 2017, each new clinical site will accept about 50 patients per year. The network has also brought on board two DNA sequencing facilities. One is at the Baylor College of Medicine, and the other is at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama, with Illumina in San Diego.
   The broader geographic distribution of sites in the UDN is intended to better serve patients. To support this collaboration on undiagnosed diseases, the UDN Coordinating Center at Harvard Medical School Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI) created the UDN Gateway as a centralized online application site.
   “The Gateway is an important part of the infrastructure that we are establishing for the UDN,” said Rachel Ramoni, D.M.D., Ph.D. “Our goal is to match 21st century medicine with 21st century technology by creating a comprehensive and streamlined online application process.” Dr. Ramoni serves as executive director and a principal investigator of the UDN Coordinating Center at DBMI.
   Those who are accepted will be seen by researchers and physicians from a wide array of medical specialties and may have their DNA sequenced to detect variations in genes that may underpin their disorders.
   “The UDN aims to improve the level of diagnosis and care for patients with undiagnosed diseases,” said Anastasia Wise, Ph.D., program director, NHGRI Division of Genomic Medicine and co-coordinator for the NIH Common Fund's Undiagnosed Diseases Network. “Based upon the experience of the NIH UDP, we know that the need and potential are great. The UDN Gateway will expand our ability to connect with patients who may benefit from the UDN. We want to make it as easy as possible for patients and their families to apply to participate in the network.”
For access to the UDN Gateway, go to
For more information about the UDN, including related funding announcements, visit
  Souce: National Institutes of Health.

New York Man Pleads Guilty to Insider Trading

   NEW YORK - 9/6/2015 - United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara recently announced that Robert Stewart, the father of former investment bank managing director Sean Stewart, pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to trade on inside information about several mergers and acquisitions announced between 2011 and 2014.
   Robert Stewart was arrested on May 14, 2015, and Sean Stewart surrendered to federal authorities that same day
   Charges against Sean Stewart remain pending before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain. A third member of the charged conspiracy, cooperating witness Richard Cunniffe, pled guilty before Judge Swain on May 12, 2015, and awaits sentencing. Steward is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on November 12.
   “Instead of teaching his son lessons of right and wrong, Robert Stewart worked with him to break the law by trading on nonpublic information and sharing in the benefits with him. Robert Stewart’s criminal actions – to which he has pled guilty today – perpetuate the unfortunate perception that the markets are rigged in favor of those with connections,” Bharara said.
   According to the agreement pursuant to which Robert Stewart entered his plea of guilty today, the underlying criminal complaint filed May 13, 2015, the Superseding Indictment filed July 15, 2015, and statements made during court proceedings:
   In early 2011, Sean Stewart, who at the time held the position of Vice President in the Healthcare Investment Banking Group of a global bank headquartered in Manhattan (“Investment Bank A”), began tipping his father with nonpublic information about upcoming mergers and acquisitions.
   The first of these deals involved the acquisition of Kendle International Inc. (“Kendle”) by INC Research, LLC, which was announced publicly on May 4, 2011
   Sean Stewart worked on the deal, representing Kendle. Robert Steward made about $7,900 in profits on purchases of Kendle stock executed in February and March of 2011 When questioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission about his Kendle trades in May 2013, Robert Stewart reported that he used the proceeds of those trades to pay expenses related to Sean Stewart’s June 2011 wedding.
   The second deal about which Sean Stewart tipped Robert Steward was the acquisition of Kinetic Concepts Inc. (“KCI”) by Apax Partners, announced on July 13, 2011. Although Robert Steward purchased some stock in KCI based on Sean Stewart’s tip, he sold that stock before the acquisition was announced, around the same time that Sean Stewart learned the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority was conducting an inquiry into Robert Steward’s Kendle trading.
   Also around this time, in the spring of 2011, Robert Steward expressed a concern to co-conspirator and cooperating witness Richard Cunniffe that Robert Steward was “too close to the source” to be trading in KCI stock in his own account, and asked Cunniffe to make purchases of KCI call options for Robert Steward in Cunniffe’s brokerage account. Cunniffe agreed to do so, and also mirrored for his own benefit the KCI trades that Robert Steward was directing.
   When the KCI/Apax Partners deal was announced, Robert Steward and Cunniffe reaped profits totaling approximately $107,790. At around this time, Robert Steward told Cunniffe that the source of the KCI tip and the earlier Kendle tip had been Robert’s son Later, around the spring of 2012, Robert Steward clarified for Cunniffe that the son in question was Sean Stewart, who worked on the “sell side” on Wall Street.
   In October 2011, Sean Stewart left Investment Bank A. A few months later, he joined an investment banking advisory firm headquartered in Manhattan (“Investment Bank B”) as a managing director.
   During Sean Stewart’s tenure with Investment Bank B, based on tips concerning nonpublic acquisition-related information supplied by Sean Stewart, Robert Steward had Cunniffe conduct options trading in advance of the public announcements of three more deals: (1) the acquisition of Gen-Probe Inc. by Hologic Inc., announced on April 30, 2012; (2) the acquisition, by tender offer, of Lincare Holdings Inc. (“Lincare”) by Linde AG, announced on July 1, 2012; and (3) the acquisition of CareFusion Corp. (“CareFusion”) by Becton, Dickinson & Co. (“Becton”), announced on October 5, 2014. Investment Bank B represented Hologic Inc. in connection with its acquisition of Gen-Probe Inc.; Linde AG in connection with its acquisition of Lincare; and CareFusion in connection with its acquisition by Becton. The profits that Robert Steward and Cunniffe reaped from illegal insider trading in advance of the announcements of these three deals totaled approximately $1.1 million. In the midst of the scheme, in December 2012, Robert Steward transferred at least $15,000 to Sean Stewart.
   To try to avoid detection for their crimes, Robert Steward and Cunniffe refrained from speaking explicitly about their trading over the phone or e-mail, sometimes using “golf”-related code For example, shortly after the announcement of Lincare’s proposed acquisition by Linde AG, a German company, Robert Steward wrote to Cunniffe that he had seen a news story about the “high cost of golf reservations since a foreign company purchased all-even more expensive than imagined.” Other steps Robert Steward and Cunniffe took to avoid detection included trying to discuss their trading at face-to-face meetings and adopting a profit-splitting mechanism that had Cunniffe paying Robert Steward his portion of the illegal proceeds in small increments, over time, typically in cash.
   In March and April of 2015, Cunniffe recorded meetings he had with Robert Steward During one such meeting, Robert Steward accepted a payment of $2,500 cash from Cunniffe, which was the balance of the proceeds owed to Robert Steward for profitable trading executed in Cunniffe’s account in advance of the CareFusion acquisition announcement. Also during this meeting, Robert Stewart admitted that Sean Stewart once chastised him for failing to make use of a tip, saying, “I can’t believe I handed you this on a silver platter and you didn’t invest in it.”
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Report on Criminal Justice Reform Released

   CHICAGO - 8/6/2015 – Illinois could save nearly $110 million and significantly reduce its over-crowded prisons if it implements a series of policy changes, according to a report issued on August 6 by the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute.
   The report, “Making Illinois smart on crime: First steps to reduce spending, ease offender re-entry and enhance public safety,” details how Illinois’ criminal justice system could be more efficient and cut back on its $1.4 billion budget. Too often, prison systems are regarded as a place to warehouse offenders and today Illinois’ prisons are at nearly 150 percent capacity. But these reforms would make Illinois’ prison system more effective, and more focused on reforming people who commit crimes so they can complete their sentences and become productive members of society.
   “With policy and legislative changes, Illinois can achieve the goal of a lower crime rate, lower incarceration rate and smarter spending on criminal justice while maintaining public safety,” said Bryant Jackson-Green, criminal justice policy analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute and author of the report. “The key is focusing on rehabilitation and recovery, not just punishment and putting people behind bars.”
   According to Jackson-Green, reforming Illinois’ prison system starts with the following changes:
  • Expanding Adult Redeploy, a program that provides incentives for counties to create alternative programs for nonviolent offenders to received targeted care instead of going to state prison.
  • Establishing a restorative-justice program that brings victims together with offenders for mediation on property crimes.
  • Eliminating “max-outs” and encourage offenders to trade more time under mandatory supervised release for less time during the final year of their prison sentence.
  • Reclassifying nonviolent drug offenses the way Utah, South Carolina and other states have done so that low-level drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
  • Removing occupational-licensing restrictions to offer ex-offenders to work and support their families outside of crime.
  • Raising felony thresholds – the dollar ranges that match the value of property stolen – to the severity of sentences. These thresholds currently are not linked to inflation.
   “We applaud the interest shown to reform Illinois’ prison system by the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Rauner,” said Derek Cohen, deputy director in the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who co-authored the report. “Now is the perfect time to enact these common-sense reforms that provide better public safety and relief to the long suffering taxpayers of Illinois.”
   The report is available online at:
Source: Illinois Policy Institute

Virtual Reality Hardware Revenue Set to Climb

  (BusinessWire) - 7/30/2015 - The year 2016 will be the make or break year for the second coming of consumer virtual reality (VR), according to a new report from Tractica. Facebook and Sony are both set to release the much-anticipated Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus headsets, respectively, by which time HTC’s Vive head-mounted display (HMD) will have been on the market for a while. A number of lessons have been learned since the 1990s when consumer VR last generated this much hype, with huge strides having been made on the comfort of HMDs, creating a convincing level of immersion, the emergence of standards, and the development of compelling content.
   Tractica anticipates that these efforts will bear fruit in the coming years, and that combined revenue for head-mounted displays (HMDs), VR accessories, and VR content will increase from $108.8 million in 2014 to $21.8 billion worldwide by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 142 percent.
   As adoption begins to reach a critical mass, the market intelligence firm forecasts that the industry’s revenue mix will quickly shift from hardware sales to content. Content sales will represent more than one-third of total VR revenue by 2017, and will quickly grow to nearly two-thirds of all VR revenue by 2020, analysts say.
   “The stakes are high for VR given the huge amount of money invested in the industry by some of the world’s biggest companies,” principal analyst Craig Foster said. “Getting users to experience VR technology firsthand, and therefore truly understand its potential, remains a challenge, but the emergence of mobile VR solutions is helping. Even so, some observers strongly believe that anything requiring the user to wear a cumbersome device will ultimately fail. Consequently, industry players continue fine-tuning their products so as not to muddy the water for all involved.”
   Tractica’s report, “Virtual Reality for Consumer Markets,” provides a comprehensive analysis of the market dynamics, technology issues, and competitive landscape for consumer VR hardware and content. The report features global market forecasts for annual unit shipments and associated revenue during the period from 2014 through 2020. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website.

Antipsychotic prescriptions a source of concern

   (NIH) - 7/8/2015 - Boys are more likely than girls to receive a prescription for antipsychotic medication regardless of age, researchers have found. Approximately 1.5 percent of boys ages 10-18 received an antipsychotic prescription in 2010, although the percentage falls by nearly half after age 19. Among antipsychotic users with mental disorder diagnoses, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was the most common among youth ages 1-18, while depression was the most common diagnosis among young adults ages 19-24 receiving antipsychotics. Despite concerns over the rising use of antipsychotic drugs to treat young people, little has been known about trends and usage patterns in the United States before this latest research, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health. Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., of the Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons and Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York City, and colleagues Marissa King, Ph.D., Yale, New Haven, Connecticut, and Michael Schoenbaum, Ph.D., NIMH, reported their findings on July 1 in JAMA Psychiatry.
   “No prior study has had the data to look at age patterns in antipsychotic use among children the way we do here. What’s especially important is the finding that around 1.5 percent of boys aged 10-18 are on antipsychotics, and then this rate abruptly falls by half, as adolescents become young adults," Schoenbaum said.  “Antipsychotics should be prescribed with care. They can adversely affect both physical and neurological function and some of their adverse effects can persist even after the medication is stopped.”
   The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved antipsychotics for children with certain disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, psychosis/schizophrenia, and autism. However, the research team found that the medication use patterns do not match the illness patterns. The mismatch means that many antipsychotic prescriptions for young people may be for off-label purposes, that is, for uses not approved by FDA.
  For example, maladaptive aggression is common in ADHD, and clinical trial data suggest that at least one antipsychotic, risperidone, when used with stimulants, can help reduce aggression in ADHD. To date, FDA has not approved the use of any antipsychotic for ADHD, making its use for this diagnosis off-label. In the current study, the combination of peak use of antipsychotics in adolescent boys and the diagnoses associated with prescriptions (often ADHD) suggest that these medications are being used to treat developmentally limited impulsivity and aggression rather than psychosis.
   Olfson and colleagues worked with the IMS LifeLink LRx database, which includes 63 percent of outpatient prescriptions filled in the U.S. The team looked at prescription data for 2006-2010 and found antipsychotic use increased with age in both boys and girls, beginning at 0.11 percent in 2010 for ages 1-6 years, increasing to 0.80 percent for ages 7-12 years and increasing again to 1.19 percent for youth ages 13-18 years before dropping substantially to 0.84 percent for ages 19-24.
   In children ages 1-6, boys were more than twice as likely as girls to receive an antipsychotic prescription (0.16 vs. 0.06 percent in 2010). This pattern held true for boys and girls ages 7-12 (1.20 vs. 0.44 percent in 2010) before narrowing for the 13-18 age group (1.42 vs. 0.95 percent) and finally becoming more comparable for young men and women ages 19 to 24 (0.88 to 0.81 percent in 2010). Among young people treated with antipsychotics in 2010, the youngest children, ages 1-6, were the least likely to receive the prescription from a psychiatrist (57.9 vs. 71.9, 77.9, and 70.4 percent for the other three age groups). This is a source of concern, as practice guidelines caution practitioners on the use of antipsychotic medications for young children in particular.
   Among young people receiving antipsychotic prescriptions, fewer than half had any medical visit that included a mental disorder diagnosis. That may be in part due to stigma about mental illness, or because primary care providers are concerned about reimbursement for treatment related to such diagnoses.
   “In addition to having a new look at antipsychotic use among youth, one positive finding coming from this study is that around 75 percent of these kids have at least some contact with a psychiatrist,” said NIMH Director Thomas Insel, M.D.
   Source: National Institutes of Health

Book Looks at Hidden Victims of Tort Reform

   CHICAGO, June 29, 2015 – In a new book, "Tort Reform, Plaintiffs’ Lawyers, and Access to Justice" (University Press of Kansas, 2015), Stephen Daniels, an American Bar Foundation Research Professor, and Joanne Martin, an American Bar Foundation Research Professor Emerita and Director of Administrative Services for the American Bar Endowment, examine the very real consequences of tort reform activity for plaintiffs’ lawyers and what it means for access to justice for ordinary people.
   Plaintiffs’ lawyers, acting as the gatekeepers to the civil justice system, are the key to meaningful access to justice for ordinary people. Many Americans cannot afford an attorney, meaning the only redress for an injury comes through an attorney who takes cases for a percentage of the recovery. However, in a variety of ways – up to and including strict limits on damage recoveries -- tort reform makes this kind of plaintiffs’ contingency fee-based practice a very precarious proposition. As one plaintiff’s lawyer told Daniels and Martin, “Unless there’s a way to make money practicing law, rights don’t make any difference.” Daniels and Martin’s research concentrates on Texas, where there has long been a successful, substantial plaintiffs’ bar and a long history of tort reform activity.
   Starting in the mid- 1990s, Daniels and Martin began a series of studies in Texas covering over 20 years of tort reform activity and the politics surrounding it. The choice to use the term “tort reform activity” is intentional for Daniels and Martin because they want to emphasize not just the tort reform legislation passed in Texas, but also the sophisticated public relations campaigns waged by tort reform advocates as a part of their political strategy.
  A key part of that strategy is an unrelenting attack on plaintiffs’ lawyers as the alleged cause of many problems that tort reform will solve, like diminished economic prosperity, disappearing jobs, or shortages of physicians. Another lawyer told them, “I believe tort reform was a major factor in my decision to close my practice. I found jury verdicts decreased due to the propaganda disseminated by insurance companies and big business, and this resulted in insurance adjusters offering less money to settle cases. I began to decline representation in cases I used to accept and was working harder and receiving less money on cases I took.”
  Most plaintiffs’ lawyers in Texas, however, are not going out of business. But Daniels and Martin found that some are leaving the practice area and most are adjusting their practices in the hope of staying solvent in a decidedly hostile environment caused by the public relations campaigns as well as the legislation enacted. Those adjustments involved re-examining the kinds of cases they would take and even the kinds of clients they would take on. This can diminish access and in some situations it can leave little or no chance for meaningful access.
   For example, Daniels and Martin found that after the Texas Legislature passed a cap on non-economic damages (commonly called “pain and suffering”) in medical malpractice cases in 2003, medical malpractice cases became much less attractive. The reason is simple – with limited damages it became more problematic to balance the risk and the cost involved in these cases given that the lawyer pays all of the costs involved in preparing such a case. If the lawyer is not successful, there is no fee and no recoup of what will be a substantial monetary investment.
   Not only have these cases become less attractive, but certain kinds of clients have become especially unattractive for the lawyers who will still take such cases. In the words one lawyer who still takes medical malpractice cases, “They essentially closed the courthouse door to the negligence that would kill a child, a housewife, or an elderly person.” The reason, he said, was the lack of economic recovery for damages like loss wages or medical expenses, and “unless it’s a drop-dead negligence that you can prosecute with one or two experts, that’s just not a case that I think in Texas right now us a viable case.” These are among the “hidden victims” of tort reform.
   In light of the apparent success of the various tort reform activities Daniels and Martin admit to a certain surprise that anyone would continue practicing as a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Texas. They found, perhaps to the reformers’ chagrin, these lawyers are still very much there. The reason is a unique professional identity that can transcend pure economic considerations. In the words of a younger plaintiffs’ lawyer, “You have true believers. . . I put myself in that category. What has appealed to me is a family with kids whose life gets turned upside down because someone in the family gets seriously hurt or killed, and they’re facing a greater than David and Goliath battle, and they need someone to fight for them. . . I’ll be in this business until the bitter end. And I hope that the bitter end is not five years from now.” Plaintiffs ‘lawyers’ own professional organizations at the local, state, and local levels bolster this professional identity.
   Source: American Bar Association (originally released on June 2, 2015)

Chuck Rosenburg Selected to Head DEA

   (DPA) - 5/30/2015 - A senior F.B.I. official and former U.S. attorney, Chuck Rosenberg, has been selected by President Obama as acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Rosenberg has served as the chief of staff to the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, for the past 18 months.
   Outgoing DEA head Michele Leonhart announced her retirement last month in the wake of numerous scandals. She came under intense criticism for opposing the Obama administration’s efforts to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and for opposing the administration’s hands-off approach in the four states that have approved legal regulation of marijuana.
   The DEA has existed for more than 40 years but little attention has been given to the role the agency has played in fueling mass incarceration, racial disparities, the surveillance state, and other drug war problems. Congress has rarely scrutinized the agency, its actions or its budget, instead showing remarkable deference to the DEA’s administrators. That has started to change recently, and Leonhart’s departure was seen as an opportunity to appoint someone who will overhaul the agency and support reform.
   “The new DEA chief has a tough job ahead,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Let’s hope he’s in line with the political consensus in favor of scaling back mass incarceration and the worst harms of the drug war.”The Drug Policy Alliance’s online campaign has raised awareness of the damage the DEA is causing, and the organization and its allies have been working with members of Congress to cut the agency’s budget and reduce its power.
   The DPA recently placed a mock “Help Wanted” ad in Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that highlights the major flaws with Leonhart’s regime – and that lays out all the problems that the next DEA administrator must try to avoid. The tongue-in-cheek ad sought a new head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to “prolong the failed war on drugs,” with primary areas of job responsibility to include “Mass Incarceration,” “Police State Tactics,” “Obstruction of Science,” “Subverting Democracy” and “Undermining Human Rights.”
   “Drug prohibition, like alcohol Prohibition, breeds crime, corruption, and violence – and creates a situation where law enforcement officers must risk their lives in a fight that can’t be won,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s time to reform not just the DEA but broader U.S. and global drug policy. The optimal drug policy would reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the greatest extent possible, while protecting public safety and health.”
   DPA also recently released a new issue brief, The Scandal-Ridden DEA: Everything You Need to Know. The brief covers numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the inappropriate use of NSA resources to spy on U.S. citizens and the use of fabricated evidence to cover it up, the warrantless tracking of billions of U.S. phone calls, and the misuse of confidential informants. The brief notes that the traditional U.S. drug policy goal of using undercover work, arrests, prosecutions, incarceration, interdiction and source-country eradication to try to make America "drug-free" has failed to substantially reduce drug use or drug-related harms. It instead has created problems of its own – broken families, increased poverty, racial disparities, wasted tax dollars, prison overcrowding and eroded civil liberties.
   Even as U.S. states, Congress, and the Obama Administration move forward with marijuana legalization, sentencing reform, and other drug policy reforms, the DEA has fought hard to preserve the failed policies of the past. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for saying that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  The DEA also has a long history of obstructing scientific research and refusing to acknowledge established science, as chronicled in a report by DPA and MAPS last year, The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science. DEA administrators, including Leonhart, have on several occasions ignored research and overruled the DEA’s own administrative law judges on the medical uses of marijuana and MDMA.
   In a recent report the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that the DEA withheld information and obstructed investigations. In a hearing last week senators grilled the DEA for failing to provide information and answer basic questions. “It’s been now eight months — I still don’t have a response from DEA to these questions,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said. “When we don’t get responses to our letters, that colors our view of the agency — particularly when we’re writing about a constituent who suffered from a real lapse in process,” Senator Diane Feinstein said.
   Last year Congress passed a spending limitation amendment prohibiting the DEA from undermining state marijuana laws. It was signed into law by President Obama, but expires later this year. The U.S. House also approved two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws. An amendment to shift $5 million from the agency to a rape kit testing program passed overwhelmingly. Numerous hearings have already been held this year scrutinizing the agency. Reformers say more amendments, bills, and hearings are on the way.
- See more at:
   Source: Drug Policy Alliance

Securities lawyer, promoters, face fraud charges

   Washington D.C., May 26, 2015  — The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced that fraud charges have been filed against a securities lawyer who used his New York law office as the headquarters for planning and implementing market manipulation schemes. Also charged are two stock promoters from Canada who assisted him.
   The SEC alleges that Adam S. Gottbetter orchestrated promotional campaigns that touted the prospects of microcap companies and enticed investors to buy their stock at inflated prices so he and his cohorts could sell shares they controlled and reap massive profits. Gottbetter enlisted Mitchell G. Adam and K. David Stevenson to help him in the last of three schemes he conducted in a six-year period. They repeatedly cautioned each other about the dangers of missteps that might draw law enforcement attention to the scheme, such as failing to keep secret the identities of Adam and Stevenson. The three rehearsed stories they would tell if ever questioned by law enforcement. During one meeting in New York City, Gottbetter complained about the difficulties of stock manipulation but conceded that robbing a bank was the only other way to make so much money so quickly.
    Gottbetter agreed to pay $4.6 million to settle the SEC’s charges. Stevenson also agreed to settle the SEC charges against him while a case against Adam will be litigated in federal court in Newark, N.J.
    In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey today announced criminal charges against Gottbetter, Adam, and Stevenson.
   “As a securities lawyer, Gottbetter should have served as a gatekeeper and protected the capital markets and investors from fraudsters. Instead, he swung the gates wide open and illicitly profited at investors’ expense,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
    According to the SEC’s complaint, Gottbetter was involved in the manipulation of the stocks of Kentucky USA Energy Inc. (KYUS) and Dynastar Holdings Inc. (DYNA) before teaming up with Adam and Stevenson in July 2013 to utilize their offshore ties for a new and potentially more lucrative scheme. Together they schemed to drive up the stock price for purported oil and gas exploration company HBP Energy Corp. (HBPE) through fraudulent trades generated by a trading algorithm. They then planned to launch an extensive promotional campaign featuring multiple call centers, roadshows, and a listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. After creating the false appearance of liquidity and investor interest, they planned to dump their shares of the stock on unsuspecting investors around the world. While Stevenson and Adam managed to do some small coordinated trades, the scheme was thwarted before the planned manipulation and promotion could be launched when Stevenson was arrested by the FBI.
    The SEC’s complaint alleges that Gottbetter violated Sections 5(a), 5(c) and Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, and violated and aided and abetted violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. The complaint alleges that Adam and Stevenson violated and aided and abetted violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5.
    Gottbetter agreed to be barred from the penny stock industry in addition to paying $4.6 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest from ill-gotten gains in the Kentucky USA Energy manipulation scheme. He consented to injunctions against future violations. Stevenson also agreed to be barred from the penny stock industry and consented to an injunction against future violations. The settlements are subject to court approval.
    The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Simona Suh of the Market Abuse Unit and Nancy A. Brown and Elzbieta Wraga of the New York office. The case was supervised by Amelia A. Cottrell and Michael J. Osnato Jr. The SEC’s litigation against Adam will be led by Ms. Brown and Ms. Suh. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Newark Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
   Source: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Executive Sentenced For Insider Trading Scheme

  (RPC) - 5/12/2015 - Former chief information officer of Foundry Networks, Inc. David Riley was sentenced on April 27 to 78 months in prison for his participation in an insider trading scheme that yielded approximately $39 million in ill-gotten gains. Foundary Networks is a California-based technology company that was acquired by Brocade Communications, Inc., in 2008. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni.
   Riley was convicted following a 13-day trial in September 2014 in which the jury unanimously concluded that Riley passed inside information about Foundry’s acquisition by Brocade and about Foundry’s earnings for the first quarter of 2008 to Matthew Teeple, a former analyst for San Francisco-based hedge fund Artis Capital Management, L.P. Teeple pled guilty to related charges in May 2014 and was sentenced principally to 60 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson on October 16, 2014.
    “David Riley took advantage of his insider position at Foundry Networks to funnel sensitive nonpublic financial information to Matthew Teeple. This inside information enabled Teeple’s firm to reap nearly $40 million in illegal profits. This conduct has now earned Riley more than six years in federal prison," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said
    According to the Superseding Indictment filed February 20, 2014, other court documents, and the evidence presented at trial: As CIO and a Vice President at Foundry, Riley had access to monthly and quarterly financial reporting, along with other sensitive, nonpublic information relating to Foundry, well before such information became public. RILEY provided this Inside Information to Teeple – sometimes by telephone and sometimes during meetings the two arranged in the San Jose, California, area. On several occasions, RILEY spoke with Teeple while logged into the database that Foundry used to maintain sensitive financial information. The Inside Information that Riley passed to Teeple included quarterly financial performance numbers during the first quarter of 2008 and information regarding Brocade’s intended acquisition of Foundry in July 2008.
   Teeple passed the Inside Information he obtained from Riley on to others, including others at Artis. From the Inside Information Teeple provided about Foundry, Artis ultimately reaped gains of approximately $39 million.  
   In addition to the prison sentence he received, Riley, 48, of San Jose, California, was ordered to pay a fine of $50,000.
   Bharara praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has filed civil charges in a separate action.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Two over-the-counter drugs may reverse MS

   (NIH) - 4/24/2015 - Two drugs already on the market — an antifungal and a steroid — may potentially take on new roles as treatments for multiple sclerosis. According to a study published in Nature on April 20, researchers discovered that these drugs may activate stem cells in the brain to stimulate myelin producing cells and repair white matter, which is damaged in multiple sclerosis. The study was partially funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.
   Specialized cells called oligodendrocytes lay down multiple layers of a fatty white substance known as myelin around axons, the long “wires” that connect brain cells. Myelin acts as an insulator and enables fast communication between brain cells. In multiple sclerosis there is breakdown of myelin and this deterioration leads to muscle weakness, numbness and problems with vision, coordination and balance.
   “To replace damaged cells, the scientific field has focused on direct transplantation of stem cell-derived tissues for regenerative medicine, and that approach is likely to provide enormous benefit down the road. We asked if we could find a faster and less invasive approach by using drugs to activate native nervous system stem cells and direct them to form new myelin. Our ultimate goal was to enhance the body’s ability to repair itself,” said Paul J. Tesar, Ph.D., associate professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, and senior author of the study.
   It is unknown how myelin-producing cells are damaged, but research suggests they may be targeted by malfunctioning immune cells and that multiple sclerosis may start as an autoimmune disorder. Current therapies for multiple sclerosis include anti-inflammatory drugs, which help prevent the episodic relapses common in multiple sclerosis, but are less effective at preventing long-term disability. Scientists believe that therapies that promote myelin repair might improve neurologic disability in people with multiple sclerosis.    
   Adult brains contain oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), which are stem cells that generate myelin-producing cells. OPCs are found to multiply in the brains of multiple sclerosis patients as if to respond to myelin damage, but for unknown reasons they are not effective in restoring white matter. In the current study, Dr. Tesar wanted to see if drugs already approved for other uses were able to stimulate OPCs to increase myelination.   
OPCs have been difficult to isolate and study, but Dr. Tesar and his colleagues, in collaboration with Robert Miller, Ph.D., professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., developed a novel method to investigate these cells in a petri dish. Using this technique, they were able to quickly test the effects of hundreds of drugs on the stem cells.
The compounds screened in this study were obtained from a drug library maintained by NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). All are approved for use in humans. NCATS and Dr. Tesar have an ongoing collaboration and plan to expand the library of drugs screened against OPCs in the near future to identify other promising compounds.
Dr. Tesar’s team found that two compounds in particular, miconazole (an antifungal) and clobetasol (a steroid), stimulated mouse and human OPCs into generating myelin-producing cells.
Next, they examined whether the drugs, when injected into a mouse model of multiple sclerosis, could improve re-myelination. They found that both drugs were effective in activating OPCs to enhance myelination and reverse paralysis. As a result, almost all of the animals regained the use of their hind limbs. They also found that the drugs acted through two very different molecular mechanisms. 
   “The ability to activate white matter cells in the brain, as shown in this study, opens up an exciting new avenue of therapy development for myelin disorders such as multiple sclerosis,” said Ursula Utz, Ph.D., program director at the NINDS.
   Dr. Tesar and his colleagues caution that more research is needed before miconazole and clobetasol can be tested in multiple sclerosis clinical trials. They are currently approved for use as creams or powders on the surfaces of the body but their safety administered in other forms, such as injections, in humans is unknown.
   “Off-label use of the current forms of these drugs is more likely to increase other health concerns than alleviate multiple sclerosis symptoms. We are working tirelessly to ready a safe and effective drug for clinical use,” Dr. Tesar said.
   Source: National Institutes of Health

Medical Data Theft: Is There an End in Sight?

   (RPC) – 4/7/2015 - Details continue to emerge about the data breach reported last month by Premera Blue Cross, a breach which involved the personal medical records of roughly 11 million people. Some of those records go back more than 14 years. Premera's plight, unfortunately, is emblematic of a much broader crisis in health care data theft that has been building ever since the push toward digital health care record began – a situation which more than just a few of us in the media had raised questions about at the time.
   In February, 2015, insurance giant Anthem, Inc., reported the theft of data in December of 2014 involving an estimated 80 million current and former members, putting at lifetime risk anyone who has ever been a customer of Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Caremore, Amerigroup, Unicare, Healthline, DeCare, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Blue Shield of Georgia.
   The Anthem theft is widely seen as one of the largest data thefts in U.S. history.
   While there is speculation on precisely what data was taken in the Premera Blue Cross case, the company cites Social Security numbers, clinical information, bank account information, birthdays, the names of applicants and their family members, and other contact and identification numbers as among the type of information that was stolen. Anthem said it does not have a reason to believe bank or credit card information was stolen, but does site income information, birth dates, Social Security numbers, email and address information.
   Premera is currently facing at last five separate class action suits. Anthem is facing numerous lawsuits as well, including one filed by St. Louis County in Missouri against Blue Cross Blue Shield. Three suits were filed against Anthem within a day after the breach was made public.
How sophisticated were the attacks? Not a sophisticated as they would have you believe, experts say.  In the Anthem incident, the company altogether avoided the encryption of sensitive customer data, with data thieves apparently making us of simple email “phishing” attacks, aimed at several employees which network access.
   In both cases, thieves were able to steal some of the most valuable data there is – people's Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses – data that rarely if ever changes and which can be used to commit fraud for many years to come.
   According to the Fifth Annual Study on Medical Identity Theft, the medical identify theft problem grew by approximately 22 percent this past year. The massive Anthem and Premera breaches will likely bump the percentage higher yet again this year. 
   The Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office for Civil Right is required by section 13402(w)(4) of the HITECH Act to post a lit of security breaching involving “unsecured protected health information affecting 500 or more individuals.
   A summary of the largest breaches since 2010, by name of covered entity and individuals affected, is as follows:
  • Anthem Inc. Affiliated Covered Entity (78,800,000).
  • Premera Blue Cross (11,000,000)
  • Science Applications International Corporation (4,900,000)
  • Community Health Systems Professional Services Corp. (4,500,000)
  • Advocate Health and Hospitals Corporation, d/b/a Advocate Medical Group (4,029,530)
  • Xerox State Healthcare, LLC (2,000,000)
  • IBM (1,900,000)
  • GRM Information Management Services (1,700,000)
  • AvMed, Inc. (1,220,000)
  • Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (1,062,509)
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennesseek Inc. (1,023, 209)
  • Sulter Medical Foundation (943,434)
  • Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc., doing business as Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and its affiliates (839,711)
  • Iron Mountain Data Products, Inc. (800,000)
  • Utah Department of Technology Services (780,000)
  • AHMC Healthcare Inc. and affiliated hospitals (729,000)
  • Eisenhower Medical Center (514,330)
  • Triple-S Management, Corp; Triple-S Salud, Inc. (475,000)
  • Affinity Health Plan, Inc. (344,579)
  • Southerland Healthcare Solutions (342,197)
  • Emory Healthcare (315,000)
  • Touchtone Medical Imaging (307,528)
  • Shred-It International Incorporation (277,014)
  • Seacoast Radiology, PA (231,400)
  • Southern California Department of Health and Human Services (228,435)
  • Indian Health Service (214,000)
  • Digital Archive Management (189,489)
  • RCR Technology Corporation (187,533)
  • Millennium Medical Management Resources, Inc. (180,111)
  • Walgreen Co. (160,000)
   Of the top 100 largest data theft incidents to date, a quick count suggests that approximately 29 involved a compromised network server, eight involved computer desktops, 19 involved laptop computers, 23 involved some other type of portable device, 12 involved paper/films, three involved email, and seven involved some other type of electronic medical records.
   What do thieves want with your medical records? The answer is apparent in at least one other troubling trend this year, that being tax refund fraud, which has been reported at escalating levels nationwide. In addition to filing fraudulent tax returns,the U.S. Federal Trade Commission warns: “A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file claims with your insurance provider, or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, and credit report may be affected.”
   Is there an end in sight to the health care and medical data theft trend, or has Pandora's Box been forever opened? Only time will tell.
   For further reference, see:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights Breach Portal; or the Federal Trade Commission - Medical Identity Theft.

Suit Claims Officers Violated Human Rights

  (RPC) - 3/19/2015 - More than 230 officers with the Illinois Department of Corrections Special Operations Response Team unit (SORT) known as "Orange Crush" have been named in a class action lawsuit for alleged human rights violations.
   Filed on March 19, 2015, on behalf of a prisoner at Illinois River Correction Center, the suit names a total of 232 officers who it says “beat, sexually humiliated, and otherwise abused hundreds of prisons,” and “gratuitously inflicted punishment for the sole purpose of causing humiliation and needless pain.”
   The plaintiff, Demetrius Ross, is being represented by the civil rights firm of Loevy & Loevy Attorney at Law, and the Uptown People's Law Center.
   As stated in the introduction to the suit: “In late April 2014, the 'Orange Crush' conducted a shakedown of cells at Illinois River Correctional Center (Illinois River). Rather than pursue this shakedown as a legitimate security procedure, however, Defendants beat, sexually humiliated, and otherwise abused Mr. Ross (and hundreds of other prisoners), destroyed his property, and otherwise gratuitously inflicted punishment for the sole purpose of causing humiliation and needless pain. Plaintiff seeks damages for his injuries (and those of other similarly abused prisoners), and an injunction prohibiting Defendants from inflicting such abuse during future searches.”
   The suit alleges that such abusive searches were common practice at several IDOC facilities, namely Menard Correctional Center, Bug Muddy River Correctional Facility, and Lawrence Correctional Facility.
   In one instance at the Illinois River facility, Ross alleges in the suit, prisoners were subject to humiliating strip searches while female officers were present, as well as various unsanitary acts and painful handcuffing positions in which the palms are extended outward. Included were “orders to march from their housing units to the gym at the facility with their hands on the backs of the prisoners ahead of them in line so that one man's genitals were in direct contact with the next man's buttocks (referred to by the Orange Crush team as 'Nut to Butts'”).
   The suit describes several other acts of physical and verbal abuse that it says were common at the hands of the guards.
   “The painful and humiliating shakedowns inflicted physical injuries—including headaches, dizziness, wrist pain, and lower back pain—and emotional injuries—including severe embarrassment, fear, stress, trauma, and humiliation,” it states.
   The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, East St. Louis Division. Ross' complain was brought on behalf of himself and “all others similarly situated to him—namely, other prisoners housed at Illinois River, Menard, Big Muddy River, and Lawrence from 2014 to the present.”
   Defendants at Illinois River, all of whom are members of the IDOC Special Operations Response Team (SORT, also known as Orange Crush), include Brian Piper, Brendan Ankrom, Justin Hammers, Brad Johnson, Fred Williams, Frank Thompson, Derek Smith, Steve Albrecht, Robert Adams, Sarah Arnett, Bryan Bailey, Shawn Bailliez, Andrew Bottrell, Larry Boyd, Douglas Brown, Dennis Bucco, Vincent Cogdal, Nick Conklin, Jason Dams, Robert Dorethy, Olin Eldridge, Lisa Ellinger, Curtis Jenkins, Scott Lamb, Chris Luker, Canduce Morrill, Andrew Moser, William Myers, Lee Parker, Chad Sappington, Ron Shoultz, Jamie Skaggs, Cally Stein, Mike Stufflebeam, Ashley Thompson, Steve Wilcoxen, Drew Derenzy, Justin Dircks, David English, M. Fluder, Joseph France, Jason Jester, Loretta Joachim, Nick Lohnes, Robert Passmore, Andy Phelps, Sam Taylor, Tammy Thousand, and Cayd Walljasper.
   Defendants at Muddy River, all of whom are members of the SORT, include Chris White, Keneth Finney, David Hermetz, Robert Walsh, Ryan Davis, James Bruce, Matt Dees, Donald Pulliam, Jeremy McBride, Nick Nalley, Gary Stark, William Hughey, Ayla Heinzmann, Kenny Brown, Randy Smith, Shane Smith, Robert Rivett, Larry Provence, Kyle Massey, DaWayne Cotton, Bradley Herzog, Dale Martin, Pat Anderson, Dwight Dilg, Rene DeGroof, Angela Craddock, Sierra Tate, John Mohr, John Jones, Doug Mason, Justin Johnson, Khorey Anderton, Matt Cannon, James Johnson, John Maragni, Mike Bowers, Blake Elliot, Ray McCann, Brice Wilson, Josh Curry, Kendall Harris, Eric Shelton, Rene Waters, and Stephanie Beasley.
   Defendants at Lawrence, all of whom are members of SORT, include Michael Gilreath, Jason Zollars, Jerry Tanner, Andy Stout, Dale Monical, Ben Lewis, Brad Yonaka, Kevin W. Johnson, Marcus Jenkins, Janet Carle, Bud Brown, Stephen Sawyer, Walter McCormick, Jerry Harper, Jason Ginder, Jeremiah Patterson, James Berry, Randy Baylor, Bill Carroll, Brad Stuck, Eric Weber, Lance Wise, Daniel Dust, Steven Conrad, Jarrod Carter, Timothy McAllister, Noble Harrington, Samuel Shehorn, Jeffrey Kidd, Ben Vaughn, Travis Ochs, Brian Livingston, Robert Kamp, Anthony Senn, Trent Ralston, Maury Goble, Bradley Ausbrook, Seth Hough, Christopher Brant, Ethan Clary, Matthew Winka, Michael Dean, Nicholas Lampley, Dallas Willis, Timothy Conrad, Christopher Cales, James Gosnell, Alexander Lockhart, Matthew Tribble, Andrew Gangloff, MaryEllen Thomason, Justin Eckelberry, Doug Line, Jacob Milam, Zachariah Buchanan, Akeem Hamilton, Andrew Volk, Gary Perkins, Kyle Brooks, John Chenault, Jr., Dan Mullin, Andrew Mays, and Brandon Richey.
   Defendants at Menard, all of whom are members of SORT, include Jerry Witthoft, Frank Eovaldi, Mark Bower, Fredrick Carter, Kevin Cartwright, Nathan Berry, Chase Caron, Kyle Donjon, Justin Engelage, Wesley Engelage, Charles Fricke, Jason Furlow, Brian Guetersloh, Shane Gregson, Mark Hanks, Joel Hepp, Kevin Hirch, Anthony Jones, Tyler Jones, Brian Kulich, Jason Lane, Jay McMillan, Alex Moll, Wesley Monroe, Jared Phillips, Kenny Porter, Rory Renk, Minh Scott, James Watkins, Eric Wenzel, Aaron Westerman, Carson Winter, Caleb Zang, Gene Bailey, Derek Baylon, David Brock, Benny Davis, Bryan Easton, Richard Harris, Shayne Howell, Brandon Hunter, Michael Laminack, James Lloyd, Lucas Mennerich, Jason Migneron, Jason Morris, John Restoff, Steven Richard, Tyson Shurtz, Ryan Ziegler, Trevor Rowland, David Holder, Scott Ebers, Mike Baughman, Hubert Brace, James Cissell, Bradley Clark, Charles Compton, Dustin Harmon, John Koch, Brandon Lloyd, Kenneth Smith, Nathan Ward, Mitch Simmons, Michael Jones, Tracy Heiman, Aaron Campbell, Edwin Gladney, Kyle Hughhey, Erik Krammer, Wendy Parks, and James Rigdon.
   Illinois River warden Greg Gossett, Big Muddy River warden Zach Roeckeman, Lawrence warden Steve Duncan, Menard warden Kim Butler, IDOC Chief of Operations Joseph Yurkovich, Acting IDOC Director Donald Stolworthy are also named as defendants in the suit.
   Allegations, as listed in the document, are as follows:
   “In late April 2014, Illinois River was put on lockdown for approximately one week. During the lockdown, Defendant Orange Crush Officers conducted a shakedown of each house at the facility.
  “Upon entering each wing of the facility, Defendant Orange Crush Officers would yell loudly and began making loud “whooping” noises, and hitting their batons on the walls, tables, doors, and railings in the wing.
   “Two of the Orange Crush officers lined up in front of each cell in the wing, and yelled at the men in the wing to “get asshole naked!” Once the prisoners were undressed, they ordered each man to come out of his cell, one at a time. They ordered each prisoner to bend over while facing their cell (leaving their backs to the officers), and spread their buttocks and lift each foot off the ground.
   “Defendant Orange Crush Officers then ordered the men to turn around to face the officers, and to lift their genitals. Next, they were ordered to open their mouths with their fingers, using the same hands that they had just used to touch their genitals and buttocks. Prisoners who asked to wash their hands before putting them into their mouths were told to “shut the fuck up!” and were threatened with segregation if they did not comply. Some of the Defendant Orange Crush Officers present in the housing unit during the strip search were female.
   “When Defendant Orange Crush Officers finished strip searching the first group of prisoners in the cells, they ordered them to return to their cell and to get dressed in pants, overshirts, and shoes. They were told that they could not put on any underwear. While those men were putting on the permitted clothing, Defendant Orange Crush Officers repeated the same process with the other men in the cells.
   “Once all of the strip searches were completed, Defendant Orange Crush Officers ordered the men to face the wall (with their backs to the officers) and to 'keep [their] fucking heads down!' Any prisoner who looked at the officers was slammed into the wall and told to 'put [his] fucking head down!' Defendant Orange Crush Officers then handcuffed all of the men in a particularly painful way—with the palms of their hands facing outwards and their thumbs pointed up to the sky. The handcuffs were also extremely tight, causing injuries to the prisoners’ wrists, and eliciting complaints from the prisoners. They were told to “shut the fuck up!' and to 'keep [their] fucking head[s] down!' and were threatened with segregation if they did not comply. Some of the prisoners asked to see a nurse or other medical staff. Their requests received the same response. All of the prisoners were handcuffed in the same way, regardless of whether they had a “front cuff” permit issued by medical staff (a medical order requiring correctional officers to handcuff men with their hands in front of them, rather than behind).
   “The men were ordered to line up and told to keep their heads down. Defendant Orange Crush Officers then lined up next to the prisoners, hitting their batons in their hands, and chanting 'punish the inmate.' This went on for several minutes.
   “Once the chanting stopped, Defendant Orange Crush Officers grabbed the back of each prisoner’s head and slammed it violently into the back of the prisoner ahead of him in line. Defendant Orange Crush Officers ordered the prisoners to stand in such a way that one man’s genitals were in direct contact with the buttocks of the man ahead of him in line—referred to by Defendant Orange Crush Officers as “Nuts to Butts.” Mr. Ross’s head was slammed down so violently that his glasses broke and fell from his face. He suffered extreme dizziness and lightheadedness as a result.
   “Defendant Orange Crush Officers then shoved their batons in between each prisoner’s legs and jerked upwards, forcing the prisoner to straighten his legs while keeping his back bent over at a 90-degree angle onto the prisoner in front of him. This had the effect of forcing the men to place their genitals directly against the buttocks of the men in front of them. The officers then ordered the prisoners, using several epithets, to march in that formation from their housing wing to the gym at the facility. As the men began marching, the officers yelled that they didn’t 'want to see any fucking daylight' between any of the prisoners in line.
   “The march from the housing wing to the gym was long and painful. Every time that a prisoner’s head came off of the back of the prisoner in front of him, officers responded with violence. Defendant Orange Crush Officers would slam the prisoner’s head into the back of the prisoner in front of him. Some, like Mr. Ross, were violently yanked out of the line, and choked and pulled to the ground while other officers jabbed them in their backs with batons. Each time this occurred, the line would stop moving. The frequent starts and stops of the procession, as well as the inherent difficulty that prisoners had maintaining perfect contact with the prisoner ahead of them in line, forced several prisoners to break contact with the prisoner in front of them, causing them to be attacked by the officers.
   “When the procession of prisoners arrived at the gym, Defendant Orange Crush Officers ordered them to stand facing the wall with their heads down. They remained handcuffed. Many of the officers then left the gym to return to the housing wing. Defendant Albright, however, remained in the gym with the prisoners.
   “The prisoners remained standing in this stress position for several hours. During that time, Defendant Albright yelled at the prisoners: 'This is punishment for all your sins!' He ordered the prisoners not to ask for medical attention because none would be provided, not to ask for water because none would be given, and not to ask to use the bathroom because they would be denied. He further told the prisoners that if their handcuffs were too tight, they would have to 'be a man and take it or get dragged to seg!'
   “After several hours, the other Defendant Orange Crush Officers returned. They lined up the prisoners in the same formation as before, and again slammed their heads into the backs of the prisoners in front of them. They again ordered the prisoners to march in that formation back to their housing wing. Just as before, if a prisoner broke the line by lifting his head off the back of the person in front of him, Defendant Orange Crush Officers reacted with violence.
   “ Defendant Orange Crush Officers laughed at and taunted the prisoners throughout the entire march to and from the gym.
   “When they at last returned to their housing wing, the prisoners found their cells had been 'tossed.' Many of the prisoners found that non-contraband items had been taken, including legal documents and property that they had legitimately purchased from the commissary at the facility. Although IDOC policies require staff to complete 'shakedown slips' to document any property taken from a prisoner, many prisoners did not receive any shakedown slips at all. Those prisoners who did receive “shakedown slips” found that they contained an inaccurate account of what had been taken and also that the slips obscured the officers’ names who had confiscated the property. Upon information and belief, this was done intentionally, as policy, to conceal the identity of Defendant Orange Crush Officers who had participated in the shakedown.
   “One of the prisoners asked an officer to get the warden, Defendant Greg Gossett. In response, the officer laughed and told him that the warden already knew all about what was happening at the facility.
   “The prisoners suffered physical injuries as a result of the shakedown at the facility, including severe headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, and severe pain in their neck and back from the march. Many prisoners complained about these injuries to the officers during the shakedown and march, and upon return to their cells. They were all denied medical attention. Officers instead told them to 'submit a grievance like you inmates always do.'
   The plaintiff argues that this neither the first nor the last time that such abuse occurred, with officers conducting similar shakedowns at Menard in April 2014, at Big Muddy River in May 2014, and in July 2014 at Lawrence.
   Altogether the suit alleges that hundreds of prisons suffered human rights violations at the hands of the named officers, as well as violations of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
   A jury trial has been demanded on behalf of the plaintiff in suit.

NSA Faces New Lawsuit Over Mass Surveillance

By Steve Rensberry
    (RPC) - 3/11/2015 - The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a new lawsuit against the National Security Agency on behalf of multiple plaintiffs. At issue is the agency's practice of conducting "upstream surveillance," and the broad scope of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which the ALCU says violates both the U.S. Constitution and the reasonable expectation of privacy that average citizens and others who rely on confidential, secure communications have.
   The suit asks that the practice of upstream surveillance be declared unlawful and stopped immediately, and that the government be required to purge all information from its databases with respect to the plaintiffs.
  Plaintiffs include the Wikimedia Foundation, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, Global Fund for Women, The Nation Magazine, The Rutherford Institute, and The Washington Office on Latin America.
   “Upstream surveillance, which the government claims is authorized by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, is designed to ensnare all of Americans’ international communications, including emails, web-browsing content, and search engine queries,” the ACLU states. “It is facilitated by devices installed, with the help of companies like Verizon and AT&T, directly on the internet 'backbone' – the network of high-capacity cables, switches, and routers across which Internet traffic travels.”
   The complaint, dated March 10, 2015, challenges what it says is “the suspicionless seizure and searching of internet traffic by the National Security Agency (NSA) on U.S. Soil,” putting in jeopardy billions of sensitive international communications conducted each year by various educational, legal, human rights and media organizations – effectively undermining their ability to conduct activities which are crucial to their missions.
   Defendants named in the suit include the Fort Meade, Maryland-based National Security Agency/Central Security Service, NSA Director Michael S. Rogers, the Defendant Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, the Department of Justice, and U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder.
   While the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was enacted in 1978, it has undergone numerous amendments over the years, one of the latest of which was the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) signed by former President George W. Bush on July 10, 2008.
   “The FAA radically revised the FISA regime that had been in place since 1978, by authorizing the acquisition without individualized suspicion of a wide swath of communications, including U.S. persons' international communications, from companies inside the United States,” the complaint states.
   The act prohibits the specific targeting of U.S. citizens, but is defined so broadly the plaintiff's say that just about any type of communication by citizens (corporations and associations included) outside the country is fair game.
   As stated in the suit: “Thus, though the FAA is nominally concerned with the surveillance of individuals and groups outside the United States, it has far-reaching implications for U.S. persons' privacy. The targets of FAA surveillance may include journalists, academic researchers, human rights defenders, aid workers, business persons, and others who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. In the course of FAA surveillance, the government may acquired the communications of U.S. citizens and residents with all of these persons.”
   Other concerns expressed in the complaint:
   -- Upstream surveillance does not share the same limitations as that of standard NSA targets, but essentially involves a fishing expedition by collecting and storing all international communications by everyone in order to filter them through a set of search terms for review and potentially further surveillance.
   -- Although so-called targeting and minimization procedures are in place to limit how data is used, those procedures are very permissive and filled with exceptions, that allow the NSA to retain anything it collects for a period of up to three years, or indefinitely if such communications are encrypted.
   “The interception, copying, and review of Plaintiffs' communications while in transit is a violation of plaintiffs' reasonable expectation of privacy in those communications. It is also a violation of plantiffs' right to control those communications and the information they reveal and contain,” the suit states.
   The complain cites action by the government in 2013, as noted by the director of national intelligence, where 89,138 individuals, groups and organizations were targeted for surveillance under a single court order; in addition to the collection of 150 million internet communications in 2011 alone under the FAA.
   ACLU Staff Attorney Patrick Toomey cites a quoted comment made by former NSA Director Michael Hayden, who stated: “Let me be really clear. NSA doesn't just listen to bad people. NSA listens to interesting people. People who are communicating information,” as evidence that there are  very few limitations on the agency's spying activities.
   “The fact that upstream surveillance is supposedly focused on international communications is hardly a saving grace. Americans spend more and more of their lives communicating over the Internet – and more and more of those communications are global in nature, whether we realize it or not,” Toomey writes. “An email from a woman in Philadelphia to her mother in Phoenix might be routed through Canada without either one knowing it. Similarly, companies like Microsoft and Google often store backup copies of their U.S. customers' emails on servers overseas, again with hardly anyone the wiser. The NSA is peeking inside virtually all of these.”
   Toomey criticizes the practice of upstream intelligence gathering as something that flips the Constitution on its head.
   “It allows the government to search everything first and ask questions later, making us less free in the process,” Toomey writes. “Our suit aims to stop this kind of surveillance.”

Researchers study brain circuitry shift, PTSD

   (NIH) - 1/24/2015 - People with anxiety disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often experience prolonged and exaggerated fearfulness. Now, an animal study suggests that this might involve disruption of a gradual shifting of brain circuitry for retrieving fear memories. Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have discovered in rats that an old fear memory is recalled by a separate brain pathway from the one originally used to recall it when it was fresh.
  After rats were conditioned to fear a tone associated with a mild shock, their overt behavior remained unchanged over time, but the pathway engaged in remembering the traumatic event took a detour, perhaps increasing its staying power.
   “While our memories feel constant across time, the neural pathways supporting them actually change with time,” explained Gregory Quirk, Ph.D of the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, in San Juan, a grantee of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “Uncovering new pathways for old memories could change scientists’ view of post-traumatic stress disorder, in which fearful events occur months or years prior to the onset of symptoms.”
   A research team led by Quirk and Fabricio Do-Monte, D.V.M., Ph.D., report on their findings in the January 19, 2015, issue of Nature.
   Immediately after fear conditioning, a circuit running from the prefrontal cortex, the executive hub, to part of the amygdala, the fear hub, was engaged to retrieve the memory. But several days later, Quirk and colleagues discovered that retrieval had migrated to a different circuit – from the prefrontal cortex to an area in the thalamus, called the paraventricular region (PVT). The PVT, in turn, communicates with a different central part of the amygdala that orchestrates fear learning and expression.
   The Quirk team spotted the moving memory using a genetic/laser technique called optogenetics, which can activate or silence specific pathways to tease apart their workings.
   The researchers say that the PVT may serve to integrate fear with other adaptive responses, such as stress, thereby strengthening the fear memory.
   “In people with anxiety disorders, any disruption of timing-dependent regulation in retrieval circuits might worsen fear responses occurring long after a traumatic event,” Quirk suggested.
   In the same issue of Nature, NIMH grantees Bo Li, Ph.D. and Mario Penzo, Ph.D. of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and colleagues, reveal how the long-term fear memory circuit works in mice to translate detection of stress into adaptive behaviors.
   Li and colleagues independently discovered the same shift in memory retrieval circuitry occurring, over time, after fear conditioning in mice. Using powerful genetic-chemical, as well as optogenetic, methods to experimentally switch pathways on and off, they showed conclusively that neurons originating in the PVT regulate fear processing by acting on a class of neurons that store fear memories in the central amygdala area.
   The Li team traced this activity in the PVT to the action of a messenger chemical, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has previously been implicated in mood and anxiety disorders. For example, altered BDNF expression has been linked to PTSD.
   BDNF from the PVT, working via a specific receptor, activated the memory-storing amygdala neurons. Simply infusing BDNF into the central amygdala area caused mice to freeze in fear, suggesting that it not only enables the formation of fear memories, but also the expression of fear responses.
   Grants: MH058883, MH086400, GM061838, MH101214
   For more information, visit

-- Do-Monte HF, Quinones-Laracuente K, Quirk, GJ. A temporal shift in the circuits mediating retrieval of fear memory. Nature, Dec. ??, 2014.
-- Penzo MA, Robert V, Tucciarone J, De Bundel D, Wang M, Van Aeist L, Varvas M, Parada LF, Palmiter R, He M, Huang ZJ, Li B. The paraventricular thalamus controls a central amygdala fear circuit. Nature Dec. ??, 2014.
  Source: National Institutes of Health