The Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration has given a contract to a firm owned by a Coast businessman who is paying back the government for defrauding Medicare.

The Focus Group received a $400,000 marketing and advertising contract on February 10 to encourage state residents, especially those in “hard-to-count” populations, to participate in the census. A copy of the Census marketing plan can be read here

The Mississippi legislature swiftly passed, with minimum debate, Senate Bill 2149 on January 30 as one of the first acts of the session. Gov. Tate Reeves signed it into law on February 10, the same day the contract went into effect. It expires on June 30.

The Focus Group is owned by Ted Cain, who will have to pay the government back more than $10 million after a jury ruled that he used his position at the Stone County Hospital to defraud Medicare. According to the most recent annual report filed on the secretary of state’s website, Cain is listed as the president and treasurer of the Focus Group.

A public service announcement put together by the Focus Group about the Census led viewers to an incorrect website. In the PSA, actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman held up a postcard with a QR code that can direct those who scan it with a cell phone to a website. None of the mail sent by the U.S. Census Bureau to residents has a QR code on it.

U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, who represents the Southern District of Mississippi, said in a news release that the Cain case was one of the “most egregious cases of Medicare fraud we have litigated in the state of Mississippi.” 

Cain gave himself a $11.8 million salary, billed to Medicare through the hospital and another company he owns, Corporate Management Inc. CMI passed on the majority of his salary package through the hospital, which was reimbursed at 101 percent from 2004 to April 1, 2013 and 99 percent after April 1, 2013 to 2015 for critical access hospitals that operate in underserved areas in rural communities. 

According to the government’s case against Cain, he received compensation despite no evidence that he did any work for the hospital that qualified for reimbursement by Medicaid. The jury awarded the government nearly $9.62 million for Cain’s fraudulent and unreasonable compensation.

His wife Julie Cain also received a large salary, more than $704,454, and evidence showed that she rarely worked at the hospital. After she resigned from the hospital, she received compensation from her husband’s company CMI for alleged consulting work and director’s fees. The government was awarded $853,964 for her fraudulent and unreasonable compensation.