Avoiding Liability For Another’s Health Plan Fraud

TPA’s Embezzlement Guilty Plea Reminds Plan Sponsors, Fiduciaries & Service Providers To Ensure Fiduciaries, Administrators & Staff Prudently Selected, Monitored & Bonded

The guilty plea of an Ohio-based third-party administrator to embezzlement of $1 million in plan assets reminds employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors and members of their management participating in plan related activities, plan administrators and other plan fiduciaries and plan service providers (“plan decision-makers”) of the importance of ensuring appropriate, well-documented credentialing and selection, oversight, auditing and bonding the individuals and companies acting as fiduciaries and others participating in administration of plans or their assets (“plan workforce members”) to minimize their potential exposure to potential personal liability as a result of the fraud under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Cox Prosecution Reflective DOL Readiness To Prosecute Parties For Misuse of Plan Monies & Other Plan Fraud

According to a February 23, 2011 U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announcement, Rhonda Sue Irvin Cox, owner of Irvin Administrative Solutions LLC (IAS), pleaded guilty to the embezzlement of $1 million of retirement plan assets from client plans administered  by IAS.   The DOL reports that between January 2003 and April 2007, Cox plead guilty to using used her position with ISC to embezzle the funds from 12 of 59 plans for which IAS served as a third party administrator. Cox also pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements in documents required under ERISA to be kept and certified by the plans’ administrator.  Scheduled to be sentenced on June 1, 2011, Cox faces a maximum of five years in prison on each criminal count, a $250,000 fine and a special assessment. Cox is scheduled to be sentenced on June 1, 2011.

The DOL and Justice Department have a long-standing record of aggressive investigation and prosecution of embezzlement or other fraud impacting health and other employee benefit plans.  Their criminal and civil enforcement and prosecution record makes clear this commitment remains strong. 

Plan Sponsors, Fiduciaries & Service Providers May Face Civil Liability From When Others Defraud Their Plans

While plan decision-makers generally are aware that individuals defrauding health or other employee benefit plans risk criminal and civil prosecution, many fail to recognize their own potential civil liability exposures that may arise out of the fraudulent acts or other misconduct of another plan workforce member. 

Embezzlement of plan assets is one of many acts of misconduct that can create potential fiduciary liability exposure for plan decision-makers under ERISA.  Until confronted with potential fraud, misconduct or other misfeasance by a plan fiduciary, service provider or other plan workforce member, many plan decision-makers lack an adequate appreciation of the personal liability they may incur if they cannot demonstrate appropriate steps were taken to protect their health plan from this misconduct.

Under ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules, embezzlement or other misuse of employee contributions or other plan assets as well as certain other misconduct or misfeasance by a plan fiduciary, service provider or other plan workforce member can create personal liability exposures for plan decision-makers with responsibility or discretionary authority over the selection, retention, or management of plan workforce members if the plan decision-maker cannot demonstrate appropriate steps were taken to select, monitor and bond the plan workforce and other prudent action was taken to prevent and redress the fraud.  Accordingly, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers, their management, and others serving as, or selecting, managing or retaining companies or individuals that participate in the handling of health plan assets or administration should act to strengthen their health plans and themselves against these exposures.

Risk Management Strategies & Tips

When embezzlement or other concern affecting their health plan arises, plan decision-makers concerned about protecting their health plans and themselves must act promptly in a carefully documented, prudent manner to investigate and respond to the concern. They should be prepared to present well-documented evidence of the scope and limits of their responsibility, authority, awareness, and potential for the selection, monitoring and oversight of the plan workforce member or others responsible for the performance of those actions, the adequacy of the bonding arrangements for the plan, and other efforts to prudently protect the plan before, during and after the discovery of the concern.  While these and other steps can help strengthen the ability of a plan decision-maker to liability exposures that can result from the other plan workforce member’s embezzlement of plan assets or other misconduct, plan sponsors and plan decision-makers also should acquire suitable fiduciary and other liability insurance coverage and make other arrangements to help provide for the potential financial costs and other demands that are likely to arise in the event that it becomes necessary to investigate or redress fraud or other misconduct.   Learn more here.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Review & Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help investigating or responding to fraud or other misconduct affection a health or other employee benefit plan, dealing with an employee benefit plan investigation or enforcement action by the Labor Department, private plaintiffs or another public or private party, reviewing current or proposed health plan processes or procedures, or responding to other employee benefit, labor and employment or other related controls and practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security, health plan, health care and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.

For more than 23 years, Ms. Stamer has counseled, represented and trained employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors, plan administrators and fiduciaries, insurers and financial services providers, third party administrators, human resources and employee benefit information technology vendors and others privacy and data security, fiduciary responsibility, plan design and administration and other compliance, risk management and operations matters.  In connection with this work, Ms. Stamer regularly counsels and helps clients to defend a broad range of clients about employee benefit plan fraud and other fiduciary responsibility concerns.  Throughout her career, she has represented and served as special counsel to health and other employee benefit plans, plan sponsors, plan service providers, officers, directors and other management officials, bankruptcy trustees, debtors and creditors, and others in connection with health and other employee benefit plan fraud and other fiduciary responsibility and related investigations, prosecutions and other actions involving the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, Justice Department, state insurance and attorneys general, bankruptcy actions, and participant, beneficiary and vendor disputes.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other employee benefits, insurance and human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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