Lab Whistleblowers Are an Ever-Present Threat

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EVERY PATHOLOGIST, LAB MANAGER, AND INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE has a justified fear of whistleblowers in their laboratory or company. Whistleblowers can surface at the most unexpected moment and with the most devastating consequences.

As you will read in this issue of THE DARK REPORT, criminal actions against ex-employees of both UroCor, Inc. and Impath, Inc. were concluded last month. Whistleblowers played a key role in the UroCor case, but were not a factor in the Impath case.

On the subject of whistleblowers, I find the UroCor case to be most instructive. During the second half of the 1990s, a time when UroCor was growing at gangbuster rates, at least three separate qui tam lawsuits were filed by current or former UroCor employees. Sometime in 1997 or 1998, federal prosecutors decided to join these whistleblower cases and they were consolidated into a single legal action. As they reviewed whistleblower materials and other documents, federal investigators decided that the actions of several UroCor executives were in violation of anti-kickback and securities laws. These investigators contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and made a criminal referral of several UroCor executives.

After investigating company business practices, reading company documents, and interviewing a host of laboratory personnel, the U.S. Attorney’s Office became convinced that at least three executives of UroCor had committed actions that violated the Medicare anti-kickback statute and securities laws. In June 2004, criminal indictments were filed against these individuals. Following a three-week jury trial in June 2006, they were acquitted on all counts.

It’s easy to characterize this situation as the worst nightmare for many pathologists, lab managers, and industry executives. Whistleblowers emerge from the lab organization, focus the attention of civil and criminal investigators on certain business practices and certain people. Criminal indictments are issued against key lab leaders. Then, following months and years of legal expense and stress, these lab leaders are (hopefully) exonerated in court by a jury of their peers. It’s one example of how lab whistleblowers, whether well-informed or ill-informed, can stir up a hornet’s nest of trouble.

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