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Healthcare Offenses

18 U.S. Code § 1518 - Obstruction of Criminal Investigations of Healthcare Offenses

Because obstruction of justice undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system, the federal government takes any act of obstruction very seriously. Title 18 U.S.C. 1518 addresses attempts to obstruct criminal investigations of healthcare offenses.

Obstruction of Criminal Investigations of Health Care Offenses - 18 U.S. Code § 1518
18 U.S.C. 1518 prohibits the obstruction of criminal investigations of health care crimes.

Under federal law, any act that "corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice" could be considered obstruction of justice.

Obstruction of justice often involves interfering with a federal law enforcement investigation in which suspects attempt to conceal or destroy evidence or refuse to cooperate with law enforcement officers.

18 U.S. Code 1518 obstruction of criminal investigations of health care offenses says, "(a) Whoever willfully prevents, obstructs, misleads, delays or attempts to prevent, obstruct, mislead, or delay the communication of information or records relating to a violation of a Federal health care offense to a criminal investigator shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(b) As used in this section, the term "criminal investigator" means any individual duly authorized by a department, agency, or armed force of the United States to conduct or engage in investigations or prosecutions of violations of health care offenses."

If you are charged with obstruction under this statute, you could serve up to five years in federal prison if convicted.

What is the Background of This Law?

18 U.S.C. 1518 was established as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a landmark legislation designed to protect sensitive patient information and establish electronic health data exchange standards.

Among its numerous provisions, HIPAA also targets fraud and abuse in healthcare systems, creating stringent requirements for handling and reporting healthcare transactions and setting statutes that protect the investigative process.

What are Some Examples of Violations of 18 U.S.C. 1518? 

Under 18 U.S.C. 1518, it is a federal offense to willfully prevent, obstruct, mislead, or delay the disclosure of information to a criminal investigator regarding an alleged healthcare offense or even to attempt to do so.

The statute specifically targets actions that hinder the investigation or prosecution of healthcare fraud and other related offenses. The wording of 18 U.S.C. 1518 is inclusive, encompassing a wide range of possible actions intended to obstruct an investigation. Examples include, but certainly are not limited to:

  • Destroying or Altering Records: Intentionally shredding, deleting, or altering patient records to conceal fraudulent billing practices.
  • Providing False Information: Deliberately giving false statements or misleading information to federal investigators during a health care fraud investigation.
  • Withholding Evidence: Failing to disclose or hide documents and records pertinent to an ongoing investigation.
  • Delaying Record Submission: Purposefully delaying submitting required documents and information to investigators hinders the investigation process.
  • Fabricating Evidence: Creating fake evidence or documents to mislead investigators or "throw them off the scent."
  • Obstructive Communication: Instructing employees or others to provide false or misleading information to investigators.
  • Impairing Electronic Systems: Tampering with electronic health record systems to delete or alter data relevant to a health care fraud investigation.
  • Creating Redundant Documentation: Producing excessive or irrelevant documentation overwhelms investigators and intentionally slows the investigation process.
  • Blocking Investigator Access: Physically preventing federal investigators from entering premises where crucial evidence or witnesses are located, thereby obstructing the investigation process.

What Must Be Proven for a Conviction?

To secure a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 1518, the prosecution must establish several elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Obstruction: You committed an act (or attempted to commit an act) designed to prevent, obstruct, mislead, or delay information related to an investigation.
  • Relevance to Health Care Investigation: The obstruction pertained to the communication of information or records relevant to a federal health care offense.
  • Awareness of Investigation: You knew your actions would likely impact a criminal investigation.
  • Willful Act: You acted willfully, meaning there was an intentional effort to obstruct justice.

Obstructing a criminal healthcare investigation can lead to significant penalties. If you are convicted of a crime under this statute, you could face:

  • Up to $250,000 in fines and
  • Up to five years in federal prison.

What Are Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 73 Obstruction of Justice has several federal laws that are related to 18 U.S. Code 1518 obstruction of healthcare criminal investigations, such as the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 1501 - Assault on a process server.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1502 - Resistance to extradition agent.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1503 - Influencing or injuring an officer or juror generally
  • 18 U.S.C. 1504 - Influencing juror by writing.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1505 - Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1506 - Theft or alteration of record or process; false bail.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1507 - Picketing or parading.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1508 - Recording, listening to, or observing grand or petit jury proceedings while deliberating or voting.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1509 - Obstruction of court orders.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1510 - Obstruction of criminal investigations.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1511 - Obstruction of state or local law enforcement.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1512 - Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1513 - Retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1514 - Civil action to restrain harassment of a victim or witness.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1514A - Civil action to protect against retaliation in fraud cases.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1515 - Definitions for certain provisions; general provision.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1516 - Obstruction of federal audit.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1517 - Obstructing examination of financial institution.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1519 - Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1520 - Destruction of corporate audit records.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1521 - Retaliating against a Federal judge or law enforcement officer by false claim or slander of title.

What are the Common Defenses Against U.S.C. 1518 Charges?

If you are accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 1518, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney may employ several defenses depending on the specifics of your case. Possible defenses include:

  • Lack of Willful Intent: Since proving intent is one of the most challenging elements for prosecutors, demonstrating that there was no willful intent to obstruct the investigation can be a powerful defense. If your actions were accidental or negligent, this may negate the required intent element.
  • Insufficient Evidence: Challenging the prosecution's evidence can be effective. This can include questioning the credibility of witnesses, the authenticity of documents, or the interpretation of actions.
  • Mistake of Fact: This defense might apply if you genuinely believed your actions were lawful and not obstructive. This requires evidence that a reasonable person might have the same misunderstanding under similar circumstances.
  • Constitutional Violations: If the investigation involved violations of your constitutional rights, such as illegal searches and seizures, your attorney might seek to suppress any evidence obtained through these means. This could potentially lead to the dismissal of the charges.

Contact our federal criminal defense law firm, Eisner Gorin LLP, in Los Angeles, California, for more information.

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