By Aaron Reiss
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With the cooperation of his clients, the clinics and some salvaged computer files, Frye managed to piece together his records and stay in business. Four years passed with no action, and NAHIC continued with its business of filing claims and collecting payments on behalf of patients. The original files have never been returned.
It took four years for the government to move again. On February 18, 1994, Frye and two employees were indicted for insurance fraud. In the indictment, the government ontended that NAHIC's principal business was "the filing of false and fraudulent claims for benefits under policies of health insurance."
Frye was placed in jail and eventually released on a $1 million bond. But the U.S. Attorney's office argued that as a Canadian, Frye posed a flight risk, so he was forced to live in a halfway house on Shepherd for two months. In addition, he was barred from managing NAHIC or having any contact with his own employees -- a clear attempt, he says, to put him out of business. "They wanted to shut me down."
Nevertheless, the business stayed afloat during his absence, and Frye eventually won the right to return to work and to his apartment. The case is currently scheduled for trial next January. Both sides say they're ready.
Assistant U.S. Attorney George Tallichet couldn't comment on the case, instead referring the Press to the indictment, which alleges 11 cases of wrongdoing, including filing claims in excess of the amount actually charged by the clinics.
Frye finds the charges more than dubious. "They took thousands of files and kept them for four years," he says, pounding his fist into his palm. "They only come up with 11 cases. And we continue to file thousands of claims a year" that are paid by the very insurance companies he allegedly scammed.
Attorney Mike DeGeurin also finds the paucity of evidence telling, especially since the indictment claims that the primary function of the business was to defraud. Eleven rather small discrepancies that could have a variety of explanations hardly add up against thousands of claims the companies have paid over the years. "They painted themselves into a corner on that one," DeGeurin says.
In addition, says Frye, he's never been sued by an insurance company for fraud, though the companies have teams of investigators to uncover false claims. "If I'm doing something wrong," he says, "the insurance industry should be suing me, not the Justice Department."
Frye doesn't mind spending his money. Pulling a recent bank statement from a cabinet, he flips to a number of hefty entries totaling $120,000, gifts to his younger relatives for their college educations (he himself dropped out of high school after the tenth grade). It's not an insignificant share of his wealth, which he estimates at between $10 million and $12 million, much of it inherited from the family shipping business in Ontario. "We share," he explains.
He pulls out a canceled check to RAN International for $100,000. Last March, inspired by the debate on the future of Houston's sports franchises, Frye decided on his own to approach the Canadian firm, which had designed Toronto's multipurpose Sky Dome. "I'm a sports fan," he says, noting that he's had season tickets for all the local teams, "even the Texas Terror."
At first, the RAN people were hesitant to respond. After all, some guy they'd never heard of was calling with what seemed a rather large request: to develop a comprehensive plan for the downtown area of the fourth largest city in the U.S. But when Frye flew to meet them and plopped a six-figure check on the table, they decided to give the idea a whirl.
Frye emphasizes that the resulting proposals are but one possibility, and that he's floating them as much to stimulate debate as anything. And he recognizes that the plan is sketchy on detail, especially on the financing end, though he's trying to piece together a group of private investors in Canada and the U.S. "We're working on that," he says.
Getting private investors to front the money for the stadium seems like a pipe dream. And Frye exhibits an almost charming naivete about the heavy politics behind the stadium machinations. For example, he believes that all the franchise owners (including Bud Adams) can sit down together, patch their differences and work together for the good of the citizenry. "There is no room for petty jealousy around here," he declared at his press conference.
But if he can rustle some private investment, which doesn't seem to be part of the Lanier-Eckels effort, it would certainly change the equation. Private dollars would strengthen the argument for a downtown location, which is generally estimated to cost at least $100 million more than the Astrodome option.
As it stands, however, the odds favor an up-or-down referendum on a new baseball stadium across from the Astrodome, and yet another major renovation of that aging structure -- possibly in conjunction with or followed by a vote on a downtown basketball arena.
Frye says that would be a terrible mistake. And he's not alone: most of the public calls for new facilities urge a downtown location. In any case, he says, "It's wrong not to let the people decide where they go."