According to Weinstein, others at the conference - Ronald Clark, a senior trial counsel for the Justice Department's civil division, and Robert Salcido, an assistant U.S. attorney from Miami - were equally taken aback by Morris's and Lloyd's line of questioning. The meeting broke up quickly, with Weinstein and Barnett returning home that evening. Aside from Weinstein's attorney, none of the participants in the meeting will discuss it today.

Two weeks after the first encounter, HHS inspector Lloyd called again from Washington to propose a second meeting. At first she insisted on meeting at Weinstein's Surfside bungalow, but a suspicious Weinstein talked her into a conference at Barnett's law office. Lloyd arrived the next day with Raisa Otero-Cesario, another Medicare inspector from the Washington headquarters of Weinstein's old investigative agency. Barnett began the meeting by saying he was dismayed at the treatment he and Weinstein had received in Washington. The two women then announced the purpose of their trip to Miami: Weinstein, they said, was now the subject of a criminal investigation to determine whether he had stolen government audits and whether he was guilty of conflict of interest in filing his free-lance lawsuits. Weinstein's attorney told him not to answer any of the questions, and then ordered the inspectors out of his office. They left.

In August 1989, Weinstein met with a panel of two FBI agents and two lawyers for the U.S. Attorney's office in Miami, and presented them with the story of his investigation of IMC fraud. He also complained to them about HHS's ongoing scrutiny of him, describing it as a scare tactic. No investigation materialized.

Last year, in an interview with the nationally syndicated TV news magazine Inside Edition, the chairman of the House Medicare subcommittee called Weinstein "a good public servant who is a whistle blower, who did his patriotic duty, whose reputation is being impugned. We owe him - Mr. Weinstein - the courtesy, the decency, of clearing his name." Rep. Fortney Stark (D-Calif.) also promised to launch a congressional investigation into Weinstein's claims that his bosses at HHS covered up evidence of fraud at Recarey's IMC and obstructed justice at the behest of White House officials. So far no such investigation has been initiated.

A recent request filed by Weinstein under the Freedom of Information Act confirms he is still officially under investigation by the federal agency he used to work for. "If the FBI, if Congress, isn't interested, well it just dies, I guess," Weinstein says. "Recarey sits down there in South America, people died, millions were stolen, Medicare lost a fortune possibly because of the contras, and that's the end of it. But I've been an investigator for 35 years, and in my opinion there's too much smoke here for there not to be fire."

Justice Department lawyers have taken over Weinstein's eight lawsuits, and in all cases the government is contesting Weinstein's right to participate and profit in the suits, arguing that, at least for ex-government employees, virtue should be its own reward. Justice Department officials also have spurned Weinstein's offers of assistance in the complicated cases. "The government does not want its employees blowing the whistle on cases where they may have dropped the ball," says Weinstein, for a moment sounding uncharacteristically lonely and bitter. "I'm offering my help. But they don't want it. It's like I'm a pariah."

International Medical Centers is gone, but many of the clinics and doctors in the lawsuits Weinstein initiated still do business in South Florida. "We don't have a Recarey, we don't have an IMC, but we have the same basic system that was in operation then," Weinstein says, expressing a wariness of health maintenance organizations. "People think they're getting a good deal by belonging to these little clinics, and sometimes they are. But I wouldn't want my own mother to belong to one. You have to realize that there's a tremendous temptation for the doctor who owns that clinic to say, `Everything's fine, you're okay, there's nothing wrong.' If he puts you into the hospital, that money for hospitalization comes out of his pocket. I think it's scary that some of the people who operated these clinics under IMC are still out there.

"No government worker has ever been awarded in any of these cases," Weinstein says, turning to the subject of his False Claims suits. "If I can do that, hopefully I would establish a precedent that other people, other government workers, could follow. I think I'd be doing more than I've ever done as a government worker. I'd be doing something for the good of the country. Of course, they say I'm doing this only for the money. So far I'm out 20,000 bucks. Maybe you'd consider me a fool. Maybe I am. Maybe I am a fool."

But there's a chance Weinstein may someday get rich from his retirement hobby. In anticipation of that eventuality, he has even formed a couple of corporations, in part to cushion the tax consequences of coming into a fortune. Three weeks ago a federal judge in the ninth circuit ruled that government employees can avail themselves of the False Claims Act, a ruling that gives new hope to Weinstein and his lawyers. Even a small piece of a multimillion-dollar settlement is a lot of money to a man living on a $2000-per-month pension. While he waits to see what happens, the wily ex-agent with the Bronx baritone continues to stroll home at noon from his tennis game, walking through the heat shimmer down Carlyle Street with his pudgy little dog. If you drive to Surfside and park in the shadow of a certain palm tree, you can see him coming, and in the distance, with the brilliant sun beating down, you will see a man who's not nearly finished fighting.

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