Motive in Alleged Data Theft a Mystery; Express Scripts Says That Ernst & Young and Its Partner, Donald Gravlin, Conspired to Steal Company's Secrets

Article excerpt

For more than a decade, Donald Gravlin was a rising star in the consulting world a leading expert on health data management and technology.

Gravlin, 46, most recently a principal in the health care advisory practice at Ernst & Young, has been quoted in trade magazines as an authority on arcane topics such as electronic health record systems, medical devices, wireless LANs, blade computing, e- learning, and optical character recognition software.

Now, the technology guru and health care consultant is viewed as someone who may have stepped over the line, violating the basic ethical precepts of the accounting and consulting professions.

Express Scripts Holding Co., the nations largest pharmacy benefit manager, has accused Gravlin of penetrating the corporate giants headquarters in north St. Louis County and stealing a massive trove of secret documents.

In a lawsuit filed last week in St. Louis County Circuit Court in Clayton, Express Scripts accused Big Four accounting firm Ernst & Young and Gravlin of misappropriating the equivalent of 20,000 pages of confidential information and trade secrets in an effort to win more health care-related business from Express Scripts and its competitors.

Ernst & Young and Gravlin were possessed with an evil motive, the suit alleges. E&Y and Gravlin engaged in unlawful and malicious competitive intelligence gathering.

The FBI is investigating the matter.

Once we became aware of the issue, we did turn it over to the FBI for further investigation, Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry said in an email. Federal law enforcement is taking this case very seriously and looking into it thoroughly.

The U.S. attorneys office in St. Louis declined to comment.

Express Scripts lawsuit, which asks for punitive damages, said those secrets include competitively sensitive cost and pricing information ... highly proprietary projections and integration strategy documents ... and highly proprietary business strategy and performance metrics documents.

In other words, the secrets are the keys to Express Scripts breakaway success. The alleged thefts occurred around the time when the pharmacy benefit manager was completing its $30 billion acquisition of its chief rival, New Jersey-based Medco Health Solutions Inc.

The suit itself was astonishing because Express Scripts is considered such a tightly managed company. Its gleaming headquarters on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis is a virtual fortress. And at Express Scripts nearby mail-order facility, guests are forbidden from photographing the robotic machinery.

Judson Clark, an investment analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in Des Peres, said the allegedly stolen data was highly prized. This is the first time Ive seen something like this, he said. For (pharmacy benefit management) companies, their pricing information is their business. ... If you could go contract by contract and piece together their pricing strategy, youd have an advantage in the market.

Jeff Jonas, an analyst at Gabelli & Co, an investment management firm in Rye, N.Y., called such allegations relatively rare. ... It also seems like a stretch that Ernst & Young would be complicit. I imagine there were pretty strict confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements. And it seems like the data is going to stay private and not be that big of an issue.

Ernst & Young, which has denied any wrongdoing, was hired to assist Express Scripts with tax accounting work and the tax-related aspects of its merger with Medco. Express Scripts consummated its purchase of Medco in April 2012. The consulting arrangement came to end in September after the alleged theft was discovered.

If, God forbid, he did this, its a very serious matter. It would be jail time and very heavy fines, said Alan Reinstein, a professor of accounting at Wayne State University in Detroit. But the case doesnt pass my smell test.

Ive never heard of this happening before. …