Lawsuit demands Rick Scott deposition from Collier court reporter

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Rick Scott has grown accustomed to fending off questions about the misdeeds of his former company, Columbia/HCA.

Now, as critics and opponents turn toward the GOP gubernatorial frontrunner’s latest venture, a Jacksonville-based chain of urgent care clinics, both Scott and the company are fighting against what they deem a smear job.

The CEO of Solantic Corporation, Karen Bowling, told reporters on Tuesday that Scott’s opponent for the Republican primary, Attorney General Bill McCollum, was unfairly targeting the company, and, in doing so, jeopardizing its employees.

Moments later, Scott, a co-founder and former board chairman of Solantic, held an impromptu press conference in Tallahassee in which he made a similar statement.

“He will try to do anything to rig the race so he can hang on to his power,” Scott said. “In short, Bill McCollum is the Tonya Harding of Florida politics.”

His statement came as McCollum has suggested comparisons between Solantic and Columbia/HCA.

Scott’s former company was fined a record $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fees for Medicare fraud that occurred while Scott was CEO. Scott has said he was unaware of the billing practices.

In a debate last week, McCollum pressured his opponent to release an April deposition in a lawsuit against Solantic, suggesting the businessman had something to hide.

Monday, a McCollum supporter in Tallahassee filed a lawsuit seeking release of the deposition, citing Florida law that prohibited the withholding of civil material deemed a “public hazard.”

And on Tuesday, McCollum drew attention to accusations sent to his office by a former employee of Solantic, who claims the company has overbilled Medicare patients.

In a conference call with reporters, Solantic lawyer Enu Mainigi, dismissed the lawsuit as a political ploy.

“I think you’ll find this lawsuit is a complete trumped-up attempt to get these allegations out,” Mainigi said.

Scott co-founded Solantic in 2001 and remained chairman of the company board until 2007. Bowling said he is now an investor with little involvement in the day-to-day operations of the company. She declined to give Scott’s stake in Solantic.

The health provider comprises 34 clinics across the state and employs as many as 525 people. It has yet to make a profit, Bowling said.

Scott gave a deposition in April in a lawsuit filed against Solantic by Dr. Mark Glencross, who claimed the company misused his medical license. Scott’s deposition came on April 7, six days before he announced his bid for governor. The parties ultimately settled the suit, and a judge dismissed the case in June.

In a debate on Aug. 5, McCollum called for release of the deposition.

“We know that whatever else happened, you wrecked (Columbia/HCA) while you were there, but nonetheless we don’t know much about Solantic,” McCollum said.

Scott hasn’t released the video recording on his own, and Solantic officials declined to discuss it. The Monday complaint, filed by Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews, asks a Leon County judge to force a Collier court reporting company to turn over the video recording.

“The Plaintiff has information which would indicate that Scott, through his control status of Solantic, appears to be engaging in the same kinds of misconduct at Solantic that was alleged to have occurred at Columbia/HCA,” the lawsuit said.

The defendant in the lawsuit, Collier Court Reporting, is a private business employed for transcribing court hearings. Office manager Sandy Burlie said only the court can decide when a deposition is placed in the public case file.

“As far as we’re concerned, we’ve done our job professionally and ethically, and we don’t just give this out to any Tom, Dick or Harry who calls us and says, ‘I want this or that,’” Burlie said.

Andrews’ complaint also includes a July 16 e-mail sent to the McCollum campaign by Dr. Randy Prokes, a former Solantic employee who claims he witnessed Medicare fraud. He writes that patients paid a full doctor’s fee when seen by nurse practitioners, a circumstance that carries a discounted fee.

McCollum told reporters on Tuesday he was obligated to turn the accusation over to investigators.

Dr. Nathan Newman, Solantic’s chief medical officer, disputed Prokes’ claims, saying the company follows state guidelines on billing and that Prokes would be unaware of billing practices.

Correspondent Michael Peltier and staff writer Leslie Williams Hale contributed to this report.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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