RICO Act sought against VA doctors, administrator
By Bill Sumrall
Criminal conspiracy charges are being sought in a plaintiff’s federal lawsuit against two VA Hospital doctors and the hospital’s administrator.
Veterans and relatives of veterans gathered Friday, July 17, on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Alexandria.
They wished to call attention to complaints with the Alexandria Veterans Affairs Medical Center located in Pineville.
A lawsuit was filed May 26, 2009, against two VA Medical Center doctors and the hospital’s administrator in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
Paul Labbe with the Louisiana Veterans Advocacy Group based in Lake Charles said, “We put in a motion to amend the suit to include the laws under the RICO Act.”
RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.
“The RICO Act was created for organized crimes but it also can be used against any agency or group of people,” Labbe said.
The amended complaint alleges a criminal conspiracy to cover up malpractice or maltreatment of patients, including alteration of veterans’ medical records.
“We amended the suit but we expect the general counsel (John Broadwell, representing the two doctors and hospital administrator) to come back and try to ask the judge (Dee Drell) not to allow us to amend the suit,” Labbe said.
Labbe initially said he expected Broadwell’s motion to ask Judge Drell to rule against use of the RICO Act would be filed no later than July 17 but later amended the time estimate for filing to no later than July 21.
Then, Labbe said, the judge takes whatever amount of time he needs in order to issue a ruling, however added that no trial date has yet been set.
The case is styled Floyd Hamilton, III as plaintiff versus Dr. Shivani Negi, Dr. Hollis Reed and Ms. Barbara Watkins as defendants.
Hamilton said he filed suit on behalf of his father, Floyd Hamilton Jr.
Court documents identify Negi as head of the VA Hospital’s intensive care unit, Hollis as the VA Hospital’s chief of staff, and Watkins as the VA Hospital’s administrator.
Labbe contends Broadwell is trying to get all the affidavits tossed out that were filed in support of Hamilton’s lawsuit to prove a pattern in acts of malpractice.
“It doesn’t do you any good to have people submitting affidavits and then the court can’t hear it or put them separately,” Labbe said.
“We’ve submitted affidavits, which are sworn statements from these individuals, some of them who’ve lost lives, and some of them lost limbs they shouldn’t have,” Labbe said.
“Unless all of the information is given, you can’t get a true picture of it,” Labbe said.
“We’re not suing for malpractice. We’re suing for the cover-up — the same reason why President Nixon was removed from office was because when you cover up a crime, you’ve committed a crime — it’s called fraud,” Labbe said.
Labbe added the press conference was called to let the public know what is happening in order for the public to voice its opinion to the court that all evidence should be allowed into the case.
Labbe also urged contacting Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office at (202) 224-5824 asking her to keep her promise to veterans for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to expose wrongs by the Court of Appeals for veterans’ claims.
“The next step is we’ll be taking depositions, which is much stronger than an affidavit,” Labbe said.
Every word of a deposition, which allows for cross-examination, has to be allowed into the court records, Labbe said.
“We’re going to depose the doctors who have been opposing the actions of this one particular doctor,” Labbe said.
“It doesn’t do any good for us to submit evidence of a conspiracy, of cover-up, then it be disallowed to being heard by the jury,” Labbe said.
Both Labbe and Hamilton claimed Inspector General investigators looking into the doctor’s actions failed to contact Hamilton as the plaintiff for his side of the story about his father’s treatment.
Hamilton said he visited Landrieu’s office in Washington D.C. but was told they couldn’t make the VA release information about his father’s case.
“Sen. Landrieu is a senator, and what kind of power does she have if an agency of the government can’t respond to a senator?” Hamilton asked.
The amended complaint seeks for Hamilton and his mother $500,000 “for mental anguish and loss of consortium” plus a separate $800,000 “to prevent future conduct as described in this complaint,” according to documents provided by Labbe.