Washington Window: A reminder of the extent of corporate criminality

Every so often, a corporate crook hits the newspapers. Think of former coal company czar Don Blankenship completing a year in jail for lying to the feds about conditions in his Upper Big Branch mine. That’s the mine where a methane explosion seven years ago killed 29 miners. But for every Don Blankenship who makes the roll of infamy, there are dozens more.

Don’t believe it? Here are some examples, taken from the latest Labor Department’s inspector general’s report, covering just the six months ending March 31.

And remember: Behind these dry numbers lie real consequences for real people, from visa fraud to shaky pension plans. And let’s not forget the $40 million in bribes a Dallas patient referral service owner and his co-conspirators paid and the half a billion dollars they stole:

• “Since the mid-1990s. OIG investigations have shown visa programs to be susceptible to significant fraud and abuse, often by dishonest immigration attorneys, labor brokers, employers, and organized criminal enterprises…OIG investigations revealed schemes where fraudulent applications were filed with DOL on behalf of individuals, fictitious companies, and dishonest businesses seeking to acquire foreign workers.

“As part of our investigations, we uncovered numerous instances of unscrupulous employers misusing foreign labor certification programs to engage in human trafficking, with victims often exploited for economic gain.”

• Speaking of visa fraud, “On Jan. 25, 2017, labor recruiter Sandra Lee Bart was sentenced to 60 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $260,000 in restitution for her role in an H-2A visa fraud scheme. Her sentencing was preceded by that of co-conspirator John Svihel, sentenced on Jan. 23 to six months’ incarceration and ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution following his conviction of conspiracy to commit fraud in foreign labor contracting. A third co-conspirator, Wilian Cabrera, was sentenced on Dec. 1, 2016, to 26 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $260,000 in restitution.

“From 2010 to May 2015, Bart and Cabrera operated an unregistered business called Labor Listo. Through Labor Listo, Bart and Cabrera recruited employers like Svihel, who operated Svihel Vegetable Farm in Foley, Minn., to hire seasonal workers from the Dominican Republic on H-2A visas.

“The H-2A visa program requires employers to pay for workers’ housing and travel expenses to and from their home country, and prohibits employers from collecting recruitment fees or wage kickbacks. Nevertheless, Bart, Cabrera, and Svihel devised and executed a scheme to collect cash kickbacks from Svihel’s H-2A workers, including a wage kickback for every hour worked and a kickback equal to the cost of flights to and from the United States.

“As part of his plea agreement, Svihel also agreed to pay more than $570,000 in civil monetary penalties for unpaid wages to Svihel Vegetable Farm H-2A workers.”

• The nation’s basic pension law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, “allows billions in pension assets held in otherwise regulated entities, such as banks, to escape full audit scrutiny. These concerns were renewed by recent audit findings that as much as $3.3

trillion in pension assets, including an estimated $800 billion in hard-to-value alternative investments, received limited-scope audits that provided few assurances to participants regarding the financial health of their plans.”

• “On February 17, 2017, Israel Ortiz pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care bribes and kickbacks. Ortiz was one of 21 indicted individuals in this massive health care fraud conspiracy involving patient referrals to Forest Park Medical Center.

“Ortiz created a business called Kortmed,” a patient referral service “that specialized in both state and federal workers’ compensation injury claims. Kortmed received requests directly from patients and primary care physicians. Kortmed would refer patients to specialty doctors and hospitals for surgery. It also assisted with completing preauthorization documents for surgeries. FPMC was paying Kortmed to refer patients for surgery at its facility.

“FPMC was an out-of-network hospital located in Dallas, Texas, that ceased operations in 2013. Founders and investors of the physician-owned FPMC, other executives at the hospital, and physicians, surgeons, and others affiliated with the hospital have been charged in a federal indictment with various felony offenses stemming from their payment and/or receipt of approximately $40 million in bribes and kickbacks for referring certain patients to FPMC.

“As a result of the bribes, kickbacks, and other inducements, from 2009 to 2013, FPMC billed such patients’ insurance plans and federal health care programs well over half a billion dollars and collected more than $200 million in paid claims.”

The above cases are just a sample of the corporate criminality uncovered in the IG’s report, which itself is in turn just a sample of the corporate criminality that exists nationwide. Don Blankenship – he’s not even mentioned in the IG report — shows that.

So we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Such widespread villainy shows there is something basically wrong with the capitalist system. The system encourages – even demands – that corporate moguls cheat, lie, steal, swindle and oppress workers to gain huge profits. That calls for wholesale reform of such a crooked system, or even its outright replacement.

Source: PAI