A Florida man was sentenced today in the Southern District of Florida to 200 months in prison for illegally distributing opioids at his pain management clinic in Miami, Florida.
According to court documents, Habib Geagea Palacios, 40, of Miami, owned General Care Center Inc., a cash-only pain management clinic in Miami. At General Care, Palacios paid doctors to prescribe opioids to nearly all patients who visited the clinic, resulting in the illegal distribution of more than three million oxycodone pills and generating $9 million in cash. Seven doctors who worked at General Care have been charged in connection with their unlawful prescribing practices at the clinic, and six have pleaded guilty to date.
Palacios pleaded guilty on Nov. 9, 2021, to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distributing a controlled substance. In addition to the term of imprisonment, Palacios was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Juan Antonio Gonzalez of the Southern District of Florida; Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Miami Regional Office; Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division; Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge La Verne J. Hibbert of the DEA’s Miami Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Brian Swain of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
The HHS-OIG, FBI, DEA, and USSS are investigating the case.
Trial Attorney Alexander Thor Pogozelski of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin J. Larsen for the Southern District of Florida are prosecuting the case.
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- Servicemember Rights: Mandatory Arbitration Clauses Have Affected Some Employment and Consumer Claims but the Extent of Their Effects is Unknown
February 26, 2021Mandatory arbitration clauses in civilian employment contracts and consumer agreements have prevented servicemembers from resolving certain claims in court under two laws that offer protections: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, as amended (USERRA), and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, as amended (SCRA) (see figure). Some courts have held that claims involving mandatory arbitration clauses must be resolved with arbitrators in private proceedings rather than in court. Although we reviewed federal court cases that upheld the enforceability of these clauses, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials said mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented DOJ from initiating lawsuits against employers and other businesses under USERRA or SCRA. However, DOJ officials noted that these clauses could affect their ability to pursue USERRA claims against private employers on behalf of servicemembers. Servicemembers may also seek administrative assistance from federal agencies, and mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented agencies from providing this assistance. For example, officials from DOJ, as well as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Labor (DOL), told us they can often informally resolve claims for servicemembers by explaining servicemember rights to employers and businesses. Examples of Employment and Consumer Protections for Servicemembers Note: USERRA generally provides protections for individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave civilian employment to perform service in the uniformed services. SCRA generally provides protections for servicemembers on active duty, including reservists and members of the National Guard and Coast Guard called to active duty. Data needed to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on the outcomes of servicemembers’ employment and consumer claims under USERRA and SCRA are insufficient or do not exist. Officials from DOD, DOL, and DOJ told us their data systems are not set up to track these clauses. Further, no data exist for claims settled without litigation or abandoned by servicemembers. Finally, data on arbitrations are limited because they are often private proceedings that the parties involved agree to keep confidential. Servicemembers are among millions of Americans who enter into contracts or agreements with mandatory arbitration clauses. For example, these provisions may be included in the contracts servicemembers sign when they enter the civilian workforce, obtain a car loan, or lease an apartment. These contracts generally require disputes to be resolved in private proceedings with arbitrators rather than in court. Due to concerns these clauses may not afford servicemembers certain employment and consumer rights, Congress included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 for GAO to study their effects on servicemembers’ ability to file claims under USERRA and SCRA. This report examines (1) the effect mandatory arbitration has on servicemembers’ ability to file claims and obtain relief for violations of USERRA and SCRA, and (2) the extent to which data are available to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on servicemember claims. GAO reviewed federal laws, court cases, and regulations, as well as agency documents, academic and industry research, and articles on the claims process. GAO interviewed officials from DOD, DOL, DOJ, and other agencies, academic researchers, and a range of stakeholders representing servicemembers, businesses, attorneys, and arbitration firms. GAO also identified and evaluated potential sources of data on servicemembers’ employment and consumer claims collected by federal agencies and the firms that administer arbitrations or maintained in court records. For more information, contact Kris T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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- Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Plans to Modernize Critical Depleted Uranium Capabilities and Improve Program Management
October 15, 2020The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is taking steps to establish a new supply of high-purity depleted uranium (DU) to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile. DU for fabrication of weapons components must be in high-purity metal form. Producing DU metal generally involves first converting a byproduct of uranium enrichment, known as “tails,” into a salt “feedstock,” which is then converted into metal. (See figure.) To reestablish a supply of feedstock, NNSA plans to install conversion equipment in an existing facility at DOE’s Portsmouth site in Ohio. DOE initially estimated costs of $12 million to $18 million to design and install the equipment, with operations beginning in fiscal year 2022. However, in March 2020, NNSA requested an increase in conversion capacity, and an updated proposal in July 2020 estimated costs of $38 million to $48 million and a slight delay to the start of operations. NNSA plans to convert the feedstock into DU metal using a commercial vendor at a cost of about $27 million annually. Conversion of a Byproduct of Uranium Enrichment into Metal NNSA is also taking steps to reestablish and modernize DU component manufacturing capabilities, but it risks delays that could affect the timelines of nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to officials. NNSA has reestablished processes for manufacturing some DU components but not for components made with a DU-niobium alloy, a material for which NNSA has no alternative. Thus, restarting the alloying process—a complicated, resource-intensive process that has not been done in over a decade—is NNSA’s top priority for DU and presents a very high risk to timely supply of components for certain nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to NNSA documents and officials. NNSA is also developing more efficient manufacturing technologies, in part because the current alloyed component process wastes a very high percentage of the materials and NNSA cannot recycle the waste. For its DU activities, NNSA has requested an increase in funding from about $61 million in fiscal year 2020 to about $131 million in fiscal year 2021. Until recently, NNSA had not managed DU activities as a coherent program in a manner fully consistent with NNSA program management policies. Since October 2019, however, NNSA has taken actions to improve program management. For example, NNSA has consolidated management and funding sources for DU activities under a new office and DU Modernization program with the goal of better coordinating across the nuclear security enterprise. Further, NNSA appointed two dedicated Federal Program Managers to gather and organize information for required program management and planning documents. High-purity DU is an important strategic material for ongoing and planned modernizations of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. However, according to NNSA estimates, NNSA has a very limited supply of DU feedstock, and its current supply of DU metal will be exhausted in the late 2020s. NNSA also does not have the full range of capabilities needed to manufacture DU into weapon components needed for modernizing the stockpile. GAO has previously reported that NNSA has experienced challenges in restarting some technical manufacturing processes. A Senate committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to examine NNSA’s management of DU for nuclear stockpile modernization. GAO’s report examines (1) the status of NNSA’s efforts to obtain the necessary quantities of DU to meet stockpile modernization requirements; (2) the status of NNSA efforts to develop DU component manufacturing capabilities to meet stockpile modernization requirements; and (3) the extent to which NNSA is managing DU activities as a program, consistent with agency policy. GAO reviewed relevant agency documents; interviewed NNSA officials and contractor representatives; and conducted site visits at headquarters and at research, development, and production locations. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or email@example.com.
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- Military Suicide: Preliminary Observations on Actions Needed to Enhance Prevention and Response Affecting Certain Remote Installations
April 6, 2022What GAO Found The Department of Defense’s (DOD) suicide prevention and response efforts have faced challenges, according to GAO’s preliminary analysis. These include assessing suicide risk at remote installations outside the contiguous U.S. (OCONUS), implementing key prevention activities, integrating prevention in primary care, and providing response guidance and training for key personnel. Suicide risk at remote OCONUS installations. GAO’s preliminary analysis suggested that remote OCONUS installations accounted for a slightly higher proportion of reported suicide attempts, but a lower proportion of reported suicide deaths relative to the proportion of servicemembers assigned to these locations in 2016-2020. DOD and military service officials stated that suicide deaths at OCONUS installations may be lower because servicemembers assigned to installations outside the U.S. have limited access to non-military issued firearms. Separately, DOD-, service-, and installation-level officials GAO interviewed identified risk factors for suicide and related challenges at remote OCONUS installations, such as less access to mental health services and increased isolation. However, DOD has not fully assessed suicide risk at these installations. Establishing a process to do so could enhance related suicide prevention efforts. Policies, programs, and activities. DOD and the military services have established suicide prevention policies, programs, and activities—such as training and mental health resources—for servicemembers and dependents, including those assigned to remote OCONUS installations. However, gaps exist in implementation. For example, the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps have not ensured implementation of some prevention activities, such as establishing required prevention teams at installations. By establishing oversight mechanisms, these services may have greater assurance that such activities are implemented across all installations, including remote OCONUS locations. Privacy protection and suicide prevention in primary care. DOD and the military services have established privacy protections for servicemembers and dependents seeking suicide prevention care. DOD has also taken steps to integrate suicide prevention into primary care by establishing screening requirements and embedding behavioral health personnel in some primary care clinics. However, GAO’s preliminary analysis found that DOD has experienced staffing shortages for these personnel, in part because it has not developed a strategy to address hiring challenges. By developing such a strategy, DOD can enhance the provision of behavioral health care to servicemembers and dependents, including at remote OCONUS installations. Guidance and training for key personnel. DOD and the military services have established some suicide response guidance and training for key personnel, but gaps exist. For example, DOD has established guidance that fully addresses commanders’ response to suicide deaths, but not suicide attempts. Further, according to GAO’s preliminary analysis, DOD has not established statutorily required training for commanders on responding to suicide deaths and attempts. By establishing comprehensive suicide response guidance and training for commanders, DOD can better ensure that commanders are prepared to provide support to suicide attempt survivors and the bereaved. Why GAO Did This Study Suicide deaths and attempts within the military community are devastating events for families. They can also harm unit morale and readiness. Remote OCONUS installations may pose challenges that increase suicide risk. This statement examines, among other things, (1) the incidence of suicide and related risk factors among servicemembers at remote OCONUS installations during 2016-2020. It also discusses the extent to which DOD and the military services have, in relation to remote OCONUS installations (2) established and ensured implementation of policies, programs, and activities that address suicide prevention; (3) established privacy protections for servicemembers and dependents seeking suicide prevention care and integrated suicide prevention into primary care; and (4) established guidance and training for key personnel for responding to suicide deaths and attempts. This preliminary analysis is included in GAO’s draft report, which was provided to DOD in March for review and comment. For that report, GAO analyzed data, policies, and guidance; reviewed documentation from 57 installations; and interviewed DOD and military service officials.
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