A Florida cancer-treatment center admitted to engaging in a nearly two-decade conspiracy to limit competition for oncology treatments and will pay $100 million in criminal penalties, the Justice Department said Thursday, the first charges in a continuing probe of the industry.
The department filed a felony antitrust charge against Fort Myers-based Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute LLC, one of the largest privately held oncology practices in the U.S.
From as early as 1999 and continuing until at least 2016, the organization and unnamed co-conspirators illegally agreed not to compete to provide chemotherapy and radiation treatments to cancer patients in Southwest Florida, the department alleged.
Instead of competing head-to-head to provide a range of services, FCS allocated the chemotherapy market to itself while a rival oncology group took the market for radiation treatments, according to the charges filed in federal court.
The resulting lack of competition deprived cancer patients of choices for their integrated care, the department alleged. It said FCS’s revenues affected by the conspiracy totaled more than $950 million.
“For almost two decades, FCS and its co-conspirators agreed to cheat by limiting treatment options available to cancer patients in order to line their pockets,” Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said in a statement.
“Shortly after learning about this issue, FCS brought on new leaders, materially enhanced its employee training and bolstered its compliance program,” Dr. Lucio Gordan, president and managing physician of FCS, said in a statement.
The firm, in signed court documents, admitted its conduct as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the government. It agreed to cooperate in a continuing investigation by the Justice Department, pay a $100 million penalty and take steps to restore competition in Florida, according to court documents. If FCS abides by the terms of the agreement through 2023, prosecutors won’t proceed with a case.
The department said it agreed to the deferred prosecution because a criminal conviction would have negative collateral consequences for patients, including those enrolled in clinical trials, as well as for cancer research and FCS employees.
A conviction could have excluded the firm from participating in all federal health-care programs.