When Attorney General Mike Hatch last week announced a multimillion-dollar price-fraud lawsuit against New Jersey drug manufacturer Pharmacia Corp., he was flanked by two unfamiliar men whose deep tans suggested they weren't from around here.
In the new world of pharmaceutical litigation, Zachary Bentley, 49, T. Mark Jones, 45, and their two other business partners are emerging as the whistle-blowing equivalents of tobacco company insider Jeffrey Wigand, crusading paralegal Erin Brockovich or Minnesota FBI agent Coleen Rowley.
Without the inside knowledge of prescription-drug buying and insurance billing possessed by the "Ven-A-Care boys" as they've been called (also the "X-Men of health care"), the recent lawsuits against the giant drug companies by the federal government, Minnesota, Texas, Nevada and other states might never have been considered.
"They've been invaluable," said Ann Bildtsen, an assistant attorney general in Hatch's office.
"They're a breed apart," said attorney Carolyn McElroy, who worked with Ven-A-Care when she was president of the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units.