Rogers cancer center, accused of fraud, calls claims part of illegal campaign

FAYETTEVILLE -- A years-long legal dispute between two of Northwest Arkansas primary cancer treatment centers continued this week with another slew of claims one center broke several laws.

Landmark Cancer Center in Rogers claimed its competitor, Highlands Oncology Group, attempted to encrypt Landmark's computer system last year and engaged in other deceptive and illegal actions.

At a glance

A lawsuit between members of two cancer treatment groups now includes accusations by both sides that the other violated federal law. The dispute is taking place in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

• The first group of parties comprises Drs. J. Thaddeus Beck, Daniel Bradford, Gregory Oakhill, Stephen Rosenfield, Eric Schaefer and Patrick Travis. All are members of Highlands Oncology Group, which has locations in Rogers and Fayetteville.

• The second group comprises TruRadiation Partners Arkansas, Northpoint Radiation Center GP, Physicians Radiation Arkansas, Pro Physicians Arkansas and Dr. Kenneth Gardner. All do or have done business at Landmark Cancer Center in Rogers.

Source: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas

"Since Landmark opened its cancer treatment center in 2012, HOG has done everything in its power to prevent Landmark from establishing itself as an alternative radiation oncology service provider," the group stated in a filing with the U.S. District Court Wednesday,

The attorneys representing the Highlands members didn't return messages at their office Thursday and earlier this month.

The filing came a month after several Highlands physicians filed their latest version of a 2015 lawsuit claiming several local companies and physicians connected to Landmark have fraudulently billed Medicare for years by referring cancer patients to Landmark for treatment while having a financial stake in the center. Such an arrangement could violate federal law, according to the lawsuit.

The Highlands group filed the original lawsuit under a federal law allowing private groups to sue alleged lawbreakers on behalf of the government and take a share of the financial penalties if they're imposed. The suit claims Landmark-affiliated physicians working at Mercy Northwest Arkansas and other providers billed Medicare for at least $612,000, and the associated penalties could reach into the millions of dollars if the Highlands group wins. It doesn't name most of those doctors as defendants.

Mercy and other providers earlier this month declined to comment or didn't respond to requests.

The Landmark group in this week's filing acknowledged several of the physicians named in the lawsuit, though not all, were or are limited business partners in TruRadiation Partners Arkansas, one of several companies that together run Landmark.

But those companies and a physician who used to work at Landmark, Dr. Kenneth Gardner, have said they provided quality care at fair prices in compliance with all state and federal laws. They stated their business model is similar to Highlands and the Highlands physicians have acted in bad faith and are mistaken about several details of Landmark's operations.

The latest filing also details several events the Landmark group claims show Highlands has deliberately tried to sabotage Landmark's work.

Landmark claims, for instance, around May of last year someone used the credentials of a former employee who had recently gone to work at Highlands to enter Landmark's computer system and install ransomware, a type of malicious program that often encrypts a computer's files and demands payment to restore access to them. Landmark claims this person continued trying to install the program even as Landmark worked to undo the damage.

Todd Lewis, a Fayetteville attorney representing the Landmark group, said Thursday the center had backups of its files that were unaffected.

This week's filing also points to Arkansas Secretary of State records as evidence of Highlands' antagonism.

Business records show a Landmark Cancer Center LLC was incorporated in 2012, the same year as Landmark. The officers of the company included Dr. Gregory Oakhill, Dr. Patrick Travis and two other physicians who are members at Highlands and filed the original lawsuit in the current dispute.

The state record for Highlands Oncology Group, meanwhile, lists "Landmark Cancer Center" and "Northpoint Radiation Center," another of the companies behind the real Landmark, as fictitious names for the company.

The actual Landmark group claims these incorporations were meant to essentially poach and confuse clients and allow Highlands to use Landmark's name online. It says these and other actions violated federal and state laws against monopolies, computer fraud and deceptive trade practices.

Highlands began in 1996 but merged with Ozark Radiation Oncology Group in 2008, then bought the facilities and equipment of the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute. The Landmark group claims this gave Highlands complete control of the radiation therapy market until Landmark came along. Landmark Cancer Centers operate in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma, according to its website.

NW News on 11/17/2017