South Florida

Former Gator, NFL player faces $20 million federal medical fraud charge

Monty Ray Grow, left, who is standing trial on healthcare fraud charges in Miami, once played for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Monty Ray Grow, left, who is standing trial on healthcare fraud charges in Miami, once played for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Monty Grow played linebacker for the University of Florida Gators and cornerback for a couple of NFL teams.

Two decades later, he’s still playing defense — but it’s no longer a game of football.

Grow, 46, started his trial Monday in Miami federal court on a slew of conspiracy, fraud and kickback charges accusing him of fleecing $20 million from a U.S. government program that provides healthcare coverage for military service members and veterans.

Prosecutors said the Tampa businessman paid kickbacks so he and other associates could score TRICARE patients for referrals to a Broward County pharmacy that was paid $40 million by the government for supplying pain, scar and other costly creams in 2014 and 2015.

In turn, Pompano Beach-based Patient Care America paid half of those government reimbursements to Grow under a contract agreement. But Grow then used millions from his take to pay kickbacks to patient recruiters and TRICARE patients in violation of federal law, according to an indictment. The indictment, filed in late 2016, does not charge Patient Care America or any of its employees.

“This is a case about a man who lied and cheated to get a bunch of money he didn’t deserve,” prosecutor Jon Juenger told a 12-person jury during opening statements. “Mr. Grow came up with a pyramid scheme of kickbacks to induce these TRICARE beneficiaries to order expensive drugs they really didn’t need.”

The prosecutor said Grow was at “the top of the pyramid” and became instantly wealthy. He owns a Tampa waterfront home, a Range Rover, a Porsche 911 and has millions in an e-trade stock market account.

Grow’s defense attorneys, Daniel RasHbaum and Jeffrey Marcus, portrayed the former football player as a lawful, successful businessman whose NFL career was cut short by injury in 1996 after playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. They said he began a marketing career in the field of “compound” pharmacies, which prepare specially mixed medications not offered as typical commercial drugs. They said he later broke out on his own with a Tampa company called MGTEN — his initials and jersey number as a ballplayer.

Rashbaum told jurors that the prosecutors have distorted Grow’s business achievements and personal wealth to make him look like a criminal who ripped off the government.

“He did not set up a pyramid scheme,” Rashbaum argued in opening statements. “He set up a multilevel marketing team, similar to Amway, Herbal Life and Mary Kay.”

Rashbaum said Grow set up a network of sales representatives who handled hundreds of TRICARE patients and arranged for them to see doctors through “telemedicine” companies who approved their prescriptions for the compound medications provided by Patient Care America. He said Grow paid his independent contractors “commissions” for finding the TRICARE patients and handling their accounts.

“The government wants to make this case by making commissions [look like] kickbacks,” Rashbaum said. “But they simply aren’t.”

The defense team said there are numerous emails, text messages and other correspondence showing that Grow acted lawfully in dealing with the sales representatives, telemedicine companies and the compounding pharmacy.

“The messages show he wasn’t someone trying to commit a crime,” Rashbaum said, noting that one email showed Grow would not let a TRICARE patient receive the costly creams without a doctor’s approval and another showed he refused to pay kickbacks for patients.

Rashbaum acknowledged that his client netted $10 million of income in less than a year after paying marketing representatives and others in his network at MGTEN. He said Grow also paid $5 million in taxes. He said that Grow will testify at his trial — a strategy that most defendants avoid — “because he has nothing to hide.”

Grow is standing trial alone because an associate with whom he shared the alleged kickbacks for the patient referrals pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. Ginger Lay faces up to 10 years in prison but could receive less time with her cooperation deal, according to court records.

On Monday, Lay was the first government witness. She testified about being broke when Grow hired her in late 2014, and that she made a windfall off commissions after scoring about 15 TRICARE patients in only a few weeks. She netted a 40 percent commission totaling $127,790 from TRICARE claims of $333,725.

Lay said she was shocked when she opened her first check in early 2015. “I had never made that type of money in my life,” she said.

She also testified that Grow instructed her to make changes on drug prescriptions, which only a doctor has the authority to do.

The criminal case against Grow, Lay and others does not charge Patient Care America or any of its employees — though the U.S. attorney’s office is pursuing a civil claim against PCA and a few of its executives. The company’s lawyer, Gerald Greenberg, said PCA “has been cooperating with the government’s investigation for some time” and that it “is no longer in the compounding creams business.”

In 2013, the former footballer was arrested after leaving a three-year-old girl in a car while he went into the Diamond Dolls strip club in Clearwater. State records show the 2013 child-abuse case in Pinellas County, which won’t be brought up in the Miami federal trial, was eventually dropped.