A consultant hired by the Jefferson Parish Council to assist it in striking a deal to lease West Jefferson Medical Center to private management has filed a federal whistleblower suit, naming as defendants two council members, the hospital and the company that wants to lease it for the next 45 years, among others.
Joshua Nemzoff filed what's known as a "qui tam" suit in federal court in New Orleans on April 13, according to memos obtained by The New Orleans Advocate.
Such suits are normally filed under seal while the U.S. Attorney's Office reviews the claims and decides whether they warrant prosecution — meaning the lawsuit itself is not public.
If the government wins fines and penalties in a prosecution or a civil action, the original plaintiff, in this case Nemzoff, stands to receive a percentage of those proceeds, according to the law.
If the U.S. Attorney's Office declines to pursue the case, the plaintiff can choose to sue on his own.
The parish has not been served with a copy of the suit, Jacques Molaison, an attorney for the parish, said Thursday. "We are in the process of lawyering up," he said, adding that the parish will have to bring in outside counsel to defend the suit.
Chris Roberts, who along with Ricky Templet is one of two councilmen named as defendants, said he hadn't seen the suit and didn't know why it had been filed.
Roberts has been a critic of Nemzoff's contract with the parish. He noted that Templet also has voted against it.
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Nemzoff declined to comment.
The suit could throw a wrench into continuing negotiations between LCMC Health, the group that wants to lease West Jefferson Medical Center for the next 45 years, and the parish. Nemzoff has been involved in those negotiations as a consultant to the parish.
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"Mr. Nemzoff's lawsuit clearly represents a conflict of interest to his participation in these negotiations," Ricardo Guevara, LCMC's attorney, wrote in a letter to Molaison. "I respectfully request that the parish exclude Mr. Nemzoff from future participation."
Molaison said that Guevara's request was being taken under consideration but that no decision had been made yet.
Other defendants named in the suit include the Sisung Group, a financial firm that has worked with the hospital; hospital President and CEO Nancy Cassagne; hospital board member Chip Cahill; LCMC Health CEO Greg Feirn; former hospital Chief Financial Officer Madeline Browning; former LCMC executive Jim Montgomery; LCMC Chief Financial Officer Suzanne Haggard; and Crescent City Anesthesia Services LLC.
The suit is the latest in a seemingly endless series of twists and turns over the 2015 hospital deal, in which LCMC agreed to lease West Jefferson Medical Center and pay the parish $500 million over 45 years.
A forensic audit is ongoing at the hospital, and the two sides have differed about the finances of the deal. Earlier this month, LCMC threatened to "pursue all legal remedies" against the parish over what it considered foot-dragging, but that dispute was resolved within days.
Nemzoff, who has been intimately involved in the deal, has also been controversial. Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock has criticized Nemzoff's contract with the parish, saying the public overpaid for the work that Nemzoff has done. In response, Nemzoff has accused McClintock of having a personal vendetta against him.
Advocate staff writer Ramon Vargas contributed to this report.
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