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Книга Third Degree. Страница 26

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Biegler cleared his throat. “Dr. Auster, perhaps this might be a good time to inform you that destroying medical records that are under subpoena constitutes obstruction of justice. In your case, those would be felony charges.”

Anger began to override the fear in Auster’s pounding heart. “Are you saying my records have already been subpoenaed?”

“That’s correct, sir. And I should inform you that digital files are no less a legal record than hard copies. If anyone attempts to erase any digital files, we will know it, and we will recover them. The penalties are quite severe.”

“I see.” Auster took a quick slug of vodka, then wiped his chin with the sleeve of his lab coat. “You know what I think, Agent Biegler? I don’t think you called me out of courtesy. I think you called to kick my blood pressure up. You called me to gloat. This is how you get your rocks off, isn’t it? You’ve got a bug up your ass about doctors, and you spend every day trying to bankrupt them or put them in jail. Well, I’ve got news for you. You’ve picked on the wrong doctor. First of all, I’m not guilty of anything. Second, I’ve got lawyers out the wazoo, and I can afford to pay them for a long, long time. And third…” Auster tried to remind himself that this conversation was almost certainly being recorded. It wouldn’t be good to threaten bodily harm or death by the intervention of third parties he might know in a questionable line of work. “Never mind about third,” he ended lamely. “You get the idea.”

“Yes, I do,” said Biegler. “You paint a vivid picture, Doctor. Now let me paint you one. You’re going to be indicted under a number of federal statutes, many of which have been newly created to deal with predatory physicians like you. You have violated the False Claims Act, the False Statements Act, several sections of the Social Security Act, and most importantly, the Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Insurance Portability Act. Also, by mailing fraudulent bills to patients in Louisiana, you’ve violated the Federal Mail and Wire Fraud Act, each instance punishable as a separate offense. Furthermore, there are civil penalties for all the above crimes. You have violated the Civil False Claims Act and the Civil Monetary Penalties Law…”

Auster was having difficulty breathing. The Diaka wasn’t going to do it this time. He opened a prescription bottle in his drawer and swallowed twenty milligrams of propranolol to slow his heart.

“Are you still there, Doctor?”

“Of course.”

“To sum up, under the new sentencing laws, you are facing the possibility of one hundred and seventy-five years in prison, and sixty-five million dollars in penalties. That doesn’t include punitive damages, which the government is entitled to pursue, up to three times the cost of actual damages. In each instance, of course.”

Auster felt a sharp pain radiating down his left arm. Even the hint of a heart event sent his pulse into the stratosphere.

“Dr. Auster?”

Auster shut his eyes and forced himself under control. All these sensations were simply a stress reaction. Paul Biegler had ambushed him, and the panic now redlining his vital signs was exactly the result Biegler had sought to produce. But he would not give the agent that victory. This was like tournament poker in Vegas. It was all about balls. Cojones. Nerves of steel. You might have bet heavy on the come and drawn a shit hand, but you couldn’t let anybody know that. Especially the guy sitting across the table from you, daring you to call. You knew he had the cards-you could read them in his eyes as surely as if his corneas were mirrors reflecting what was in his hand. But you had to call the bastard and play it out. Anybody could win with a royal flush. It was how you played the shit hands that proved your mettle.

“Did you hear what I said, Doctor?” Biegler repeated. “Sixty-five million dollars.”

Somehow, Auster found it within himself to chuckle. “That figure is a fantasy, Agent Biegler. None of that will ever happen. You know why? You’re rattling off all those numbers to scare me into settling out of court. You want me to pay Uncle Sam a big chunk of extortion money. Well, guess what? I have committed no crimes. None. And I already pay the government my fair share of extortion money. It’s called taxes, and I shell out close to a million dollars every year. So kiss my sanctified ass, you pencil-pushing cock-sucker.

For a few glorious moments, Kyle Auster felt the euphoria of having done what every hardworking American wanted to do in his heart of hearts, tell the government to go to hell-and it felt good.

Then Agent Biegler started laughing. “You’re something, aren’t you?” he said, his voice betraying something like admiration. “I heard that about you. High-stakes gambler, they tell me. Boy, this one’s gonna be fun. By noon tomorrow, you’re going to think you’re dealing with a proctologist, not a Medicaid investigator.”

“What exactly are you, Agent Biegler? Are you really an investigator? Because I smell a lawyer. I can respect a cop, you know? But a lawyer’s something else again.”

“I have a law degree.”

“Couldn’t pass organic chemistry, huh?”

Biegler’s laughter stopped. “I should also inform you that as of nine a.m. tomorrow, all Medicaid payments to the partnership of Auster-Shields Medical Services will cease. You are being excluded from the Medicaid program pending the outcome of your criminal trial. Have a nice day, Doctor.”

Auster slammed down the phone before Biegler could hang up. “Vida!” he yelled at his door. “Vida!”

Nothing.

He buzzed the front. “Nell, tell Vida to come back here!”

“Yes, Doctor.”

Auster put away the Diaka bottle and took three deep breaths to try to calm down. A moment later, Vida stepped into his office, her face lined with worry.

“Nell told me who it was,” she said. “You shouldn’t have taken that call, Kyle.”

“Yeah, well, you should have been here to tell me not to take it.”

“Let me guess. You got into a pissing contest.”

Auster shrugged helplessly. “Do you know what he said I’m facing?”

“Jail, I guess.”

Auster leaned forward and looked hard into Vida’s heavily made-up eyes. “Not just jail. A hundred and seventy-five years in prison.”

She didn’t flinch. “No way. Never happen.”

“Then there’s the little matter of sixty-five million dollars in penalties.”

At last her face lost some color. “Sixty-five million? Can that be true?”

“Oh, yes. And that’s not counting punitive damages. You need to start researching the Kennedy-Kassebaum law. If you want to know what the rest of your life looks like, that is.”

Vida walked halfway around the desk and looked down at him. “Don’t let that asshole get to you. He’s just talking tough, like all cops do.”

“He’s pretty good at it.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve been sterilizing records for the past ten days. We never did anything stupid. I’ve been working in medical offices for eighteen years. Everything we billed for can be defended on medical grounds.”

“But the special patients…they can blow us out of the water. The stuff we did on them was based on total fiction.”

“Wrong. They said the words to you, Kyle. They made the complaints. You did what any conscientious physician would do, even if you thought the complaints might be psychosomatic.”

“Jesus, Vi.”

She reached out and brushed some hair from his eyes. “You’ve got to hold your nerve, baby.”

“We paid them to say that stuff!”

Vida shook her head. “Never happened. Untraceable cash, and long gone now, I promise you.”

“But if they testify-”

“They won’t. Where’s the upside for them? From us they get cash and free medical care. From the government they get jack shit. Anybody makes trouble, we’ll buy them off.”

“What if somebody has an attack of conscience?”

“They won’t. I didn’t pick a bunch of Holy Rollers to do this, I picked good, compromised Christians. The only thing we have to worry about is somebody you pissed off. Somebody testifying out of revenge. Like a woman, say.”

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