Mychal Wilson ’89 exposed fraud and helped bring about $515 million in settlements between pharmaceutical giant and state and federal governments
Every aspiring actor needs a day job, but corrupt sales representative wasn’t a role Mychal Wilson ’89 was willing to play.
Instead, he became a vocal whistleblower who helped bring about $515 million in settlements between pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMS) and the Unites States Department of Justice as well as 44 state Medicaid programs to resolve fraud allegations made by Wilson and others.
“It’s scary that the public doesn’t know that someone can walk into a doctor’s office and bribe him,” Wilson says. “Then you walk in and the doctor prescribes this medication. And you don’t know why. Why drug B over drug C? Sometimes because the pharma rep you saw leaving the office just provided the doctor with a kickback.”
Wilson’s story began following a stint on Wall Street, as he and David Portlock ’88 set their sights on the independent film industry in Los Angeles. There Portlock wrote and directed while Wilson acted and executive produced a highly acclaimed 1996 Sundance Film Festival flick, The Spartans. Though it had been a success, it lacked one critical element — funding to become a feature film. In what Wilson describes as a “hard, hard business,” additional cash flow would be needed to continue infiltrating the scene, where the friends would team up again for the feature film The Gristle.
Cue Wilson’s debut into the life of a salesman.
Wilson grasped the opportunity to support his passion, a career in film, and as time drew on, as an attorney for the entertainment industry. He spent his days making sales pitches to physicians, his lunches reading for auditions, and his vacation days filming television and commercial spots. As he delved further into the acting world, he found his interests from the past — law and politics — resurfacing, and he enrolled at Southwestern University School of Law.
But as his legal mind developed, so did tensions at work. Upper management told Wilson he was a target for termination, claiming his studies detracted from time for sales. Though Wilson was enrolled in the evening program and his colleagues were pursuing MBAs, his newly garnered legal sense, coupled with how vocal he had been about fraudulent practices in the company, marked him as a potential liability.
Wilson says that during the early 2000s, “massive amounts” of money were being spent on doctors – bottles of liquor, gift certificates, golf sessions, trips to exotic locales, suites at the Staples Center for Lakers games, preceptorships and consulting agreements — but the promised “educational component” of these incentives was nothing but a “sham.” In exchange, doctors were supposed to increase the number of prescriptions they wrote for the company’s drugs, including ones reimbursed by Medicare/Medicaid.
“Pressure was put on all reps,” Wilson says. “If you did not recruit a certain number of doctors to become consultants, you were perceived as not doing your job. In fact, in some cases if you did not blow out your monthly budget wining and dining physicians, office staff, pharmacists, etc., then you were perceived as not a team player.”
Wilson won BMS’ Pinnacle Award for top-ten achievement in sales despite the fact that his expense reports paled in comparison to his colleagues’. “I didn’t like playing the game,” he says. “I wasn’t into it and neither were some physicians whom I have developed and maintained strong relationships with.”
Wilson continued to be vocal about the fraudulent practices he witnessed, such as bribing doctors, which would contribute to BMS’ settlement for illegal pricing and marketing of drugs. Additionally, he amassed a “voluminous amount” of documents — receipts, expense reports, attendee records, physician consulting agreements, and other fraudulent documents. These records not only garnered the attention of his supervisors, but also that of filmmaker Michael Moore, who at the time was seeking material for his documentary Sicko since he had been banned from physicians’ offices. Ultimately, Wilson was terminated.
Unknowingly joined by several other BMS employees from around the country, Wilson filed suit against his former employer on behalf of the government in what is known as a “Qui Tam” case under the False Claims Act. This tenet, established by Abraham Lincoln, allows a whistleblower to bring a case that fraud has been committed against the government, and in exchange, potentially receive up to 15-25% of the overall settlement. The catch, however, is that the relator (AKA “whistleblower”) must be an original source of information and refrain from public disclosure. The case remains sealed so that only the client, his or her attorney, and the Department of Justice are aware of its content, and only if the DOJ decides to subpoena the company does it learn that it is being investigated but not why. “It is one of the ways to protect the whistleblower while investigating,” says Wilson.
“It involves this world of secrecy, and a lot of whistleblowers become isolated,” he adds. “The only people they can really speak to are their attorneys. You can’t discuss your case because it could blow up in your face.”
When Wilson brought his case, he did not have a wife or children, which allowed him to persist through the settlements. However, he says that many potential whistleblowers remain silent for fear of fallout such as banishment, bankruptcy or divorce — a heavy price to pay if the settlement is for naught.
Though now a successful entertainment attorney at his firm, MindFusion Law LPP — he’s been credited as entertainment attorney and/or producer’s representative in about 10 films since 2005 — Wilson is still involved with waging the battle against health care fraud. In addition to serving as a “vigilante lawyer” for other whistleblowers, he frequently speaks to members of Capitol Hill to beef up initiatives to address the fraud committed by pharmaceutical giants.
“After all, fraud against the United States government is a bipartisan issue and the False Claims Act has recovered billions of dollars for U.S. taxpayers,” he says. “Of course, these recoveries are extremely vital in our present economic state and President Obama’s legislation for health care reform.”
For Wilson, his big case boosted his confidence and desire to fight for justice.
“Some thought I was crazy and went a little too Hollywood,” he says. “But in the end I was right. And now, I’m a model of how someone can really step forward and correct what’s going on in the health care industry.”