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Columbia / HCA Hospital in Las Vegas Raided

April 30, 1998|DAVID R. OLMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The federal investigation of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. expanded to Las Vegas on Wednesday when state and federal agents conducted a search of Sunrise Medical Center, Nevada's biggest hospital.

Agents from the state's Medicaid fraud division and the FBI conducted a search of the Columbia-owned hospital in connection with a criminal investigation of the facility, Nevada Atty. Gen. Frankie Sue Del Poppa confirmed.

Nevada has been investigating the Las Vegas facility since last year, when a former Sunrise vice president claimed that he had "committed a felony every day" while employed there and accused the hospital company of widespread improprieties and illegal behavior.

The allegations of the former executive, Mark Gardner, were detailed in The Times in September.

Nashville-based Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest hospital chain, is the target of a broad federal criminal investigation into suspected Medicare fraud. It is also under investigation for Medicaid fraud in several states and by federal regulators looking into possible violations of U.S. securities laws. California has been monitoring the investigations in other states. Columbia owns 15 hospitals and other health-care facilities throughout California.

A spokesman for Del Poppa said state and federal agents were seizing a "wide range of records, documents and computer information" from Sunrise and an off-site storage facility. Agents spent most of Wednesday loading the documents into a large rental truck.

The Las Vegas hospital is cooperating with the investigation, said the spokesman, Bob Harmon.

Harmon declined to elaborate on the nature of the investigation or the materials sought by investigators, except to note that the probe involves the state's Medicaid fraud unit.

A source close to the investigation said hospital administrators were served with subpoenas and that a federal grand jury in Nevada is hearing evidence in the case.

Sunrise officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

"The attorney general has made every effort under the circumstances so that our presence does not cause disruption to patient care or services," Del Poppa's office said in a statement.

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