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Behavioral health treatment provider disputes federal investigators
By Eric Heinz
On Thursday, June 15, Sovereign Health, a behavioral health residential treatment provider based in San Clemente, issued a statement regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s widespread inspection.
The FBI had agents search locations in San Clemente on Tuesday that included Sovereign’s headquarters, Vedanta Laboratories and the residence of the company’s CEO, Tonmoy Sharma, among other locations that have not been confirmed with the San Clemente Times. However, according to a post on Sovereign Health’s Facebook page, the company’s Culver City and Palm Desert locations were also searched. Officials with the FBI said they cannot comment on the details of the search warrants they served the company and other locations, as the investigation is ongoing.
When agents arrived at the locations, Sharma said the investigators threatened his staff at gunpoint.
“The way they executed these search warrants was a disgrace,” Sharma said in a press release. “All they had to do was tell our senior management what they needed and we would have gladly complied. We have nothing to hide. Instead, they burst into our facilities, upsetting patients who are already fragile and dealing with trauma. They threatened our unarmed staff at gunpoint. And they didn’t even seem to know why they had busted into our facilities.”
In a phone interview on Thursday, Haroon Ahmad, media and public relations specialist with Sovereign Health, reiterated Sharma’s comment that patients dealing with trauma were affected by the FBI’s presence. According to Sovereign Health’s release, Department of Health Care Services members handed out pieces of paper with additional resources and information about other treatment centers in the area where the patients could go. Following the start of the FBI’s investigation on Tuesday, Ahmad also said some patients did leave rehabilitation treatment at the company’s San Clemente location on their own accord to go to other treatment providers.
When asked which phone number family members of the patients under the care of Sovereign Health could call if they had concerns, Ahmad said they could call the 24/7 service line on the main website. When the SC Times called the corporate office phone number on Wednesday, the call was redirected to a Sovereign branch in Fort Myers, Fla. The number a representative gave the SC Times was answered by an automated message that did not identify on the line as belonging to Sovereign.
Although the statement said employees were threatened at gunpoint by officials, Ahmad did not see the weapons drawn himself, but said, “it could have happened at one of our other locations.”
FBI officials said their investigation and service of warrants was done legally.
“Law enforcement officials executed search warrants approved by a federal judge that authorized them to search the premises as part of an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson for the FBI in Los Angeles. “The actions of the agents and officers involved in the search were in full compliance with the law and our investigation is ongoing.”
Sovereign employees were asked to give out their contact information and social security numbers too, said Ahmad.
As of Thursday morning, two days after the initial search, Ahmad said normal operations have resumed at Sovereign’s San Clemente location, but could not verify if Vedanta Laboratories – described by Ahmad as a toxicology lab used in coordination for Sovereign Health’s client needs– has returned to regular business.
“We are not letting the retaliatory actions of bullies get in the way of the important business of providing top-notch care for our patients with addiction and mental health issues,” Sharma said. “We know what is behind this pattern of harassment and strong-armed tactics. We will not be intimidated and we will prevail.”
Sovereign sued the city of San Clemente in 2016 in federal court over zoning laws that regulate where sober living homes and treatment centers can be placed. That same year, the city sued Sovereign in Orange County Superior Court for what it claims as continued disruptions and for not following the ordinances. Both lawsuits are still ongoing. Sovereign is also in litigation with California Department of Social Services over what they claimed was “a pattern of harassment by officials” against Sovereign’s employees. The company also filed a lawsuit against Health Net, Inc. and several of their affiliates to end discrimination against rehabilitation providers.
Read the full statement here: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/sovereign-health-strikes-back-at-law-enforcement-officials-raid-300474997.html
Editor’s note: Rachael Mattice contributed to this report.