Originally created 12/14/99

Informant challenging separation

Long before federal investigators cracked a near $12 million Medicare fraud case in Augusta with his help, Michael Haddle stepped up to aid a Sunday school teacher about to be cheated, Mr. Haddle's lawyer told a jury Monday.

In 1992, the Healthmaster executive already had a bad feeling about his superiors and how he was instructed to do his job, but overhearing Jeanette Garrison and Dennis Kelly laughing one day about hiding a crucial witness in a civil lawsuit spurred Mr. Haddle to take action, Charles C. Stebbins III told a U.S. District Court jury Monday.

This week, the jury will determine if Mr. Haddle was fired because he blew the whistle on the illegal activity at Healthmaster or because he wasn't doing his job and provided corporate information to the attorney who represented that Sunday school teacher in 1992-93. Mr. Haddle sued the now-defunct Healthmaster, Mrs. Garrison, and former corporate attorney and President G. Peter Molloy in February 1996.

"Our reception referred to him as deep throat," testified Duncan Wheale, a former Augusta attorney who is now an Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court judge.

At first, Mr. Haddle called anonymously about Judge Wheale's client, who was the judge's Sunday school teacher. Mr. Haddle helped locate the supposed missing witness. He also helped Judge Wheale discover that Mr. Kelly and Mr. Molloy knew exactly where the witness lived and helped him piece together the relationship between multiple companies Mrs. Garrison operated and used to commit a massive Medicare fraud, Judge Wheale testified.

His client won his case, thanks to the information Mr. Haddle provided, Judge Wheale testified.

In 1994, he gave the same information to federal agents.

If Mr. Haddle knew about the fraud in 1992, he had a duty to the corporation to report it, defense attorneys told the jury in their opening statements Monday.

Mr. Haddle was not an innocent at Healthmaster, attorney Phillip Bradley told the jury. He was a trained accountant, experienced at Medicare reimbursement work, and was the vice president in charge of Medicare reimbursement at Healthmaster -- the mechanism used to commit fraud, Mr. Bradley said.

"Michael Haddle didn't go to the government to blow the whistle," Mr. Bradley said. He was trying to protect his own skin when federal investigators knocked on his door, said the attorney who is representing Mrs. Garrison.

Mr. Molloy's attorney, Patrick Claiborne, also questioned Mr. Haddle's motives and criticized him for not protecting the corporation by reporting his suspicions to the proper authorities. Mr. Molloy still believes he was justified in firing Mr. Haddle in June 1995 for not doing his job and for having turned over company information to the civil attorney in 1992, Mr. Claiborne said.

But Mr. Stebbins told the jury that Mr. Haddle tried to report what he knew to the independent auditors at Healthmaster and to the IRS but was met with indifference.

Testimony continues today in the Augusta federal courthouse.

In 1995, a 133-count federal indictment was issued against Healthmaster, Mrs. Garrison, Mr. Kelly and David W. Suba. Mrs. Garrison, founder and owner, pleaded guilty to reduced charges and received a 33-month prison sentence. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Suba were convicted at trial and sentenced to 13- and eight-year prison terms, respectively. Mr. Suba has been considered a fugitive since he disappeared from the Eglin Air Force Base in May 1998, where he was serving his sentence.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.


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