AIDS Healthcare Foundation Sues L.A. County

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The AIDS Healthcare Foundation sued Los Angeles County, claiming three of its officials falsely accused it of overbilling $1.7 million, to punish the group for its advocacy of the condoms-for-porn-actors law, and for blowing the whistle on county mismanagement of AIDS funding.
     The AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its president Michael Weinstein sued Los Angeles County, Department of Public Health directors Dr. Jonathan Fielding and Mario Perez, and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, in Superior Court.
     Weinstein made similar claims against Los Angeles County in a federal lawsuit last December.
     In July, the foundation asked a federal judge to enjoin the county from auditing it, claiming the audit would interfere with patient care. That request was denied on July 19.
     Voters approved Measure B, the Safer Sex in Adult Industry Act, in the November 2012 general election. The law requires porn actors to wear condoms. Pornography filmmakers in Los Angeles County also must take blood-borne pathogen training to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
     The San Fernando Valley is a center of the pornography industry.
     Porn producers must pay a fee to the L.A. County Department of Public Health for a film permit. Film permits may be revoked if actors or producers violate the law.
     The AIDS Healthcare Foundation was the official advocate of the ballot measure and in April this year intervened in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, which the foundation claims the county does not want to enforce.
     In the new lawsuit, Weinstein claims the foundation is paying the price for its “advocacy positions,” and criticism of county officials’ misuse of federal funds.
     “Defendants’ retaliatory conduct includes a conspiracy to create incorrect audit findings and demand millions of dollars from AHF [AIDS Healthcare Foundation] based upon these findings, and defendants’ discussion of these incorrect audit findings in front of other providers and the public at large,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants carry out these practices in order to intimidate providers into submission and prevent them from speaking out critically against the county.”
     In his dense, 45-page complaint, Weinstein admonishes the county for claiming the foundation had overbilled L.A. County by $1.7 million. Compared to other providers, the county directs “frequent and invasive” audits of the foundation, Weinstein says.
     The Health Resource Services Administration distributes federal funds under the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has contracted with the county since the late 1990s to provide patient services.
     Weinstein claims that the county misuses those funds, cutting off vital services to patients and favoring health care providers who make campaign contributions to county officials.
     In 2009, the county reallocated $1.2 million to the Tarzana Treatment Center after cutting off funding for the foundation’s organization in the Antelope Valley, where it still operates at a loss, according to Weinstein.
     “Tarzana had less experience than AHF and other providers in the area at treating HIV/AIDS. However, many of the principals of Tarzana are significant campaign contributors to Yaroslavsky,” the lawsuit states.
     The county did not look at competing bids last year when in a single day it pushed through a $75 million contract for a private pharmacy administrator called Ramsell, Weinstein says in the complaint.
     The foundation sued the county in Superior Court for violating competitive bidding rules, and won a judgment invalidating the contract in June 2012 – a move that angered county officials, according to the complaint.
     Weinstein claims that as the foundation campaigned for Measure B in the November 2012 general election campaign, county officials “ramped up their threats,” demanding the foundation pay the $1.7 million within two weeks.
     “Defendants’ actions have injured AHF Michael Weinstein, and their mission of providing quality care to those with HIV/AIDS,” the complaint states.
     The AIDS Healthcare Foundation seeks an injunction and general, compensatory, special and punitive damages for violations of the California Constitution and the California Whistleblower Act.
     It is represented by house attorney Samantha Azulay.

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