by Kevin Krause
A federal magistrate judge on Thursday denied a government motion to detain three men who were recently convicted in a large medical kickback and bribery case involving Forest Park Medical Center, a former Dallas hospital.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Rebecca Rutherford allowed Wilton “Mac” Burt, Jackson Jacob and Dr. Douglas Won to remain free pending their sentencing hearings. She did, however, grant the government’s request to restrict their travel to Texas. Sentencing dates have not been scheduled.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Pfeifle argued that all three men were a flight risk. She said Burt had been living in Costa Rica prior to the indictment and owned property and bank accounts there. Burt, she said, faces up to life in prison.
Burt’s attorney, Ed Tomko, told the judge his client has since sold his property in Costa Rica and severed all his ties to the country. Tomko said Burt has no assets and “no ability to go anywhere,” and that he wants to spend his remaining time with his children before going to prison.
Pfeifle said Jacob faces up to 20 years in prison and has family ties to India, his country of birth, which include his mother. She also said Jacob has put some of his lucrative medical businesses in his wife’s name, but still has access to the funds.
His lawyer, Sarah Wirskye, told Rutherford that Jacob has lived in the U.S. for almost 30 years and had to turn in his passport. She also said her client doesn’t have any assets in India.
Pfeifle told the judge that Won’s recent financial filings in his bankruptcy case don’t match the government’s accounting of his assets, and she suggested he may be hiding money. She also said Won has ties to South Korea, where he was born.
Won’s attorney, Paul Coggins, argued that his client has significant ties to the U.S., is bankrupt and has to continue providing post-op care to his roughly 30 surgery patients. Won, he said, completed his final spine surgery in late March. Coggins also said Won faces only up to five years in prison – the least amount of any of the Forest Park defendants.
The second and final detention hearing is scheduled for Monday, for Dr. Michael Rimlawi, Dr. Shawn Henry, Dr. Mrugeshkumar Shah, and Iris Forrest.
Original post from April 11:
One day after a federal jury in Dallas convicted spine surgeons and others in connection with a $40 million bribery and kickback conspiracy, the government formally requested they be taken into custody because many of them face other criminal matters.
The jury found that a defunct, doctor-owned hospital, Forest Park Medical Center, illegally paid for surgeries to boost its profits. Seven out of nine defendants, including four doctors, were convicted for their roles in the scheme.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Pfeifle wrote Wednesday in her motion for detention that the burden now shifts to the defendants to prove they are not a flight risk or danger to the community. She said they are a flight risk and asked that they be detained immediately or as soon as possible this week.
“As this Court knows, many of these defendants have access to significant financial resources, some have ties to and relations in foreign countries, and many have other criminal matters pending,” Pfeifle wrote.
Her disclosure of other criminal allegations, detailed in a sealed government filing, is the first time that information has been made known publicly.
“Additionally, the government has learned of certain defendants recently liquidating assets,” she wrote. “Further, the Texas Medical Board and Nursing Board will likely move forward to suspend or revoke defendants’ medical licenses.”
Paul Coggins, lead attorney for one of the defendants, Dr. Douglas Won, said he will file an objection to the government’s motion.
No detention hearings had been scheduled as of late Wednesday.
Prosecutors said the surgeons agreed to refer patients to the Dallas hospital in exchange for money to market their practices. The more surgeries doctors could bring to Forest Park, the more money they could earn, prosecutors said.
Pfeifle also wrote in her motion that one of the defendants filed for bankruptcy during the trial, which began in late February.
That appears to be a reference to Won, who filed a Chapter 7 petition shortly after the trial got underway. Won obtained an extension to file detailed financial statements.
One of those who were convicted is Wilton “Mac” Burt, a co-founder and top manager of Forest Park whose residence is in Costa Rica, according to prosecutors.
After the verdict was read on Tuesday, Pfeifle asked U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater to immediately detain all of the convicted defendants. The judge declined, saying he will allow the matter to be decided at future detention hearings.
Chris Lewis, an attorney for Dr. Shawn Henry, a spine surgeon, said late Wednesday in a statement: “The notion that any of these defendants is a danger to the community or a flight risk is absolutely absurd. They have all complied with their bond conditions for the past two and a half years, and there is nothing to suggest that’s going to change now.”
Other defense attorneys could not be reached for comment. However, on Tuesday, Ezekiel Tyson Jr., an attorney for Iris Forrest, said he was shocked by the government’s detention request.
“Nothing shows that these guys are flight risks,” he said.
All seven defendants who were convicted were found guilty of one of the more serious charges in the indictment — conspiracy to pay and receive health care bribes and kickbacks.
In addition to Burt, Won and Forrest, those convicted include Dr. Michael Rimlawi, a spine surgeon; Dr. Mrugeshkumar Kumar Shah, a pain doctor; and Jackson Jacob, a recruiter for Forest Park. A bariatric surgeon, Nick Nicholson, was acquitted by the jury. And jurors could not reach a unanimous decision against a former Forest Park employee, Carli Hempel.
A total of 21 people were charged in 2016 in the bribery scheme, which ran from 2009 to 2012. Ten pleaded guilty prior to trial. One, a lawyer, received a separate trial. And charges were dismissed against another, a doctor.
More on the story read here