Pinellas News

Federal agents at Universal Health Care in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG - About a dozen federal agents showed up at Universal Health Care this morning, armed with a search warrant, and told employees to leave the building. FBI agents and officials with the federal Department of Health and Human Servicesí Office of the Inspector General arrived about 8 a.m. at the troubled insurerís headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg. Within a half-hour, hundreds of employees were milling around outside the building at 100 Central Ave. While the federal agents have not said what they are doing at Universal, Ryan Lynch, the assistant special agent in charge with the Inspector Generalís office, said his agency investigates health care fraud. The state took Universal Health Care into receivership last week and plans to liquidate it, citing massive financial problems at the company, which started in St. Petersburg but insures thousands of people in several states. Federal agents spent the day at the companyís headquarters last Thursday, after a Leon County judge ruled that Universal be placed under state control.
The state plans to shut down the company as of Monday, and hundreds of people are losing their jobs. After the agents arrived this morning, they directed the employees to a break room and read a list of names of people they wanted to interview. Employees were then told to collect their personal items and leave the building. The company is conducting a job fair today at its downtown headquarters for employees being laid off. Small groups of employees are being brought back into the building for the job fair. While federal agents told employees they were done working for the day, many are still hanging around, waiting for official word from company officials. A skeleton crew of workers has been allowed to stay at their desks and handle critical insurance claim calls. Universalís financial problems have been mounting for months. The Florida Department of Financial Services moved to place Universal into receivership last month, arguing that the company had misled creditors, was deeply in debt and could not continue supporting its policyholders. Several potential buyers stepped forward with plans to rehabilitate the company with capital investments, but Universal missed court deadlines to make its case, and a judge ruled it financially insolvent after numerous employees quit and health providers canceled contracts after complaining they hadn't been paid in recent weeks. The company began laying off employees last year and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February.
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