An owner of collapsed health care financier National Century Financial Enterprises Inc. has accused her partner, Lance K. Poulsen, of orchestrating a "classic Ponzi scheme" that succeeded for years because accountants, bankers and other Wall Street partners ignored financial manipulations.
The claims in a lawsuit filed last month by Rebecca S. Parrett -- a founder, director and treasurer of the Dublin, Ohio company -- represent the first time an insider has alleged that privately held National Century manipulated its books and played down its financial troubles as it became one of the largest health care financiers in the nation.
They also echo the allegations of investors and the company's new manager, who contend that National Century lost up to $3 billion raised through bond sales before Poulsen resigned as chief executive and the company declared bankruptcy last fall.
National Century provided quick cash to vulnerable health care providers, many of them inner-city hospitals, in return for the money they would collect later from private and government insurers. National Century then issued bonds and used the insurers' payments to pay off bondholders.
In the suit, Parrett called National Century's business a "scam" that relied on the routine sale of hundreds of millions of new bonds to pay off old investors. By mid-1999, she charged, 50 percent of the health care receivables on the company's books were either "worthless or non-existent," the suit said.
The practices, she said, were engineered by Poulsen and enabled by underwriter Credit Suisse First Boston, trustee banks J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank One, and accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte & Touche -- all of them named as defendants.
She cited e-mails, and internal memos and audit reports, which she included as exhibits, to back up her claims. Despite her titles and ownership interest -- Parrett received $2.1 million in salary and bonus in 2001 -- she was kept out of the loop on key decisions, she said. Often, she was instructed by company lawyers to sign blank documents, the suit said.
Though Parrett was listed as National Century's treasurer, "she knew nothing about collateral, financing" and "they never allowed her to be on the audit committee, the compensation committee or any of the places where she could have learned about" Poulsen's scheme, said Parrett's Washington-based attorney, Victoria Toensing.
Poulsen denies doing anything wrong. "There was no Ponzi scheme," his attorney, Albert J. Lucas of Columbus, Ohio, said yesterday. "This was a legitimate business." Spokesmen for J.P. Morgan Chase, Credit Suisse First Boston and Bank One declined comment.
Deloitte & Touche said in a statement: "This lawsuit by an NCFE founder and officer against outside professionals is completely disingenuous. . . . This action against Deloitte is completely without merit and we intend to vigorously defend the suit."
PricewaterhouseCoopers said the charges in the suit were "entirely untrue." .
"It's ironic that as a founder, officer and director of National Century, she would accuse PwC of 'manipulating' or 'omitting' information that is actually the company's obligation to truthfully and accurately provide to its auditors."
National Century's troubles last fall forced Greater Southeast Community Hospital in the District and other health care clients across the country into bankruptcy. It also spurred investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and FBI, which raided the company's headquarters and Parrett's house in Arizona in November.
The company, founded by Poulsen, Parrett and her then-husband, Donald H. Ayers, in 1991, claimed to grow by 40 percent annually in recent years, with revenue rising from almost $57 million in 1995 to more than $306 million in 2001. But Parrett claims many of the transactions were fraudulent. She said National Century advanced more than $400 million to a company called Homecare Concepts of America -- a company that she, Poulsen and another partners owned -- even though it did not provide required collateral, was "dormant" and "had no ability to repay the money under any circumstances."
She said those kinds of advances were routinely ignored by trustees J.P. Morgan and Bank One, which managed the accounts for the bond pools. The banks "participated in NCFE's fraudulent accounting and funding scheme by falsely representing that bondholders had approved" the use of certain kinds of collateral, according to the legal papers.
The lawsuit asks for $50 million in damages, asserting that Parrett's professional reputation has been destroyed and her 18 percent stake in National Century -- valued at about $42 million in late 2000 -- is now worthless.