The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed Dr. Mehmood Patel’s 2008 conviction and 10-year sentence for performing unnecessary — and often invasive — procedures on his patients. A jury convicted the former cardiologist on 51 of 91 counts of health care fraud, finding that between February 2001 and January 2004, he defrauded Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers of $2 million by seeking reimbursement for “medically unnecessary” procedures. The initial 91 counts involved 74 different patients.
Federal prosecutors said Patel’s actions caused complications and serious harm to some patients who were subjected to angiogram, angioplasty and stent procedures they did not need. They said the doctor lied to patients about their medical conditions, performing most of these unnecessary tests and procedures at Our Lady of Lourdes and Lafayette General Medical Center.
By far the busiest cardiologist in town, Patel did not slow down until after his clinic, Acadiana Cardiology, was searched by investigators who had been tipped off by a whistleblower. From 1999 - 2003, Patel was the second highest biller in the entire state of Louisiana, according to the court record. “... there was evidence that Patel abruptly changed course, evincing possible consciousness of guilt, after the government executed its search warrant,” the appeals court writes. “He ordered fewer procedures, revised existing patient medical findings, and cancelled already scheduled stentings.”
In his appeal, Patel challenged just about every aspect of the prosecution, from his indictment to his sentence. Among the arguments in his appeal, which the 5th Circuit said touched “nearly every stage of the proceedings in the district court,” was that the district court coerced the jury by invoking what’s known as the “Allen” charge. U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon used the Allen charge when he asked the deadlocked jury to continue its deliberations. Often called the “dynamite charge” or “hammer charge,” the jury instruction is intended to prevent a hung jury and mistrial by encouraging jurors to make a decision of guilty or not guilty.
According to the appeals court decision:
Trial began on September 17, 2008. It spanned three and a half months. The government had at least one expert testify about each of the 91 procedures. The case first went to the jury on December 17. On December 22, the court dismissed the jury foreperson and seated an alternate. The jury was instructed to “begin its deliberations anew.” Then, in the early afternoon of the fifth day of the new deliberations, the court received a jury note indicating a possible deadlock. The court directed the jurors to review their prior instructions concerning deliberations. Jurors sent a similar note two hours later. The court responded with the Fifth Circuit’s pattern Allen charge. On the sixth day, after seven more hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict. It convicted Dr. Patel on 51 counts of health care fraud and acquitted him on the other 40 counts.
When a jury indicates that it is deadlocked, district courts have broad discretion to invoke the Allen charge. “The district court was appropriately hesitant to administer the charge and did so only after reflection and care,” the appeals court writes. “We find no abuse of this broad discretion in the district court’s giving of the charge.” The judges also noted the significance of the jury returning a discriminating verdict by acquitting Patel on 40 of the indicted counts.
Patel was sentenced to the statutory maximum 120 months in prison on each count, to run concurrently, followed by three years supervised release. He was ordered to pay the maximum guidelines fine of $175,000, in addition to the costs of incarceration and supervision, as well as $387,511 in restitution and a $48,631 forfeiture. At the time of his conviction, the court estimated his net worth as $6.4 million.
In early 2008 Lafayette General Medical Center settled civil lawsuits brought by Patel’s former patients for $1.8 million. The year before, Our Lady of Lourdes, where Patel did most of his work, paid $7.4 million to settle similar suits. LGMC also paid the federal government $1.9 million to settle claims it defrauded Medicare, Medicaid and other federal and state health plans from 1999 to 2003 by billing them for medically unnecessary procedures performed by Patel. Lourdes settled with the feds in August 2007 for $3.8 million.
At least two whistleblowers went to officials with information on Patel, including Neil Kinn, a registered nurse doing contract work at Patel’s clinic, and another local cardiologist, Dr. Christopher Mallavarapu.
MAY 22 This post was written the day after the second line shooting in NOLA, by Brentin Mock. Mock is a friend of Deb "Big Red" Cotton, a blogger who was shot in the back and was seriously injured. It is a raw, emotional piece of writing, something the writer obviously felt he needed to get off his chest. But it raises questions that can't be easily dismissed, and might give some insight into where the source of these events truly is.
MAY 22 In this Baton Rouge Business Report post, Rolfe McCollister considers the privatization of bus service in Baton Rouge. After decades of under-funding, it is a mess, and although a tax (partially) passed last year, improvement hasn't happened yet. McCollister apparently feels it is time to let private business get in on the transit business.
MAY 22 This post on Bayou Buzz by Jeff Crouere urges the defeat of a bill that would grant modest pay increases over the next several years to the state's judges and clerks of court. The state is in no position to fund pay hikes, Crouere argues, with the pay increases costing a total of $9 million over several years. It sends the wrong message to the (proverbial) hard-working people of Louisiana, he says.
MAY 22 The Advocate reports here that State Treasurer John Kennedy is complaining about a meeting of the corporation that oversees the state's tobacco settlement. The Governor wanted it restructured, and he has some support, but not a lot. The corporation agreed with his plan, but Kennedy didn't, and it appears that the meeting was noticed in a manner completely different than that of all previous meetings. Kennedy's given to hyperbole, but in this case the fish don't smell too fresh.
MAY 22 In this Advocate story, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout says the recent federal indictment of a strip club owner is all wrong. The indictment alleges that drugs and prostitution went on with impunity because club staff made arrangements with "local" police. Stout says it never happened, and while his cops do work security in the parking lot, they're not allowed inside.
MAY 22 This amusing post in DIG Baton Rouge recounts an ad that ran on Craig's List recently; the advertiser was seeking tenants for a Beauregard Town house. He knew his market, and wrote an ad that the most ironical hipster couldn't resist. Apparently, he really did know his market, because the ad worked like a charm.
MAY 22 In this post in The Lens, Mark Moseley comments on the rhetoric Gov. Jindal employed in trying to save his tax "reform" package. One interesting point concerns Jindal's use of his brother, Nikesh, in a little story. Nikesh left Louisiana because of his inability to get a decent job, the story goes, but the story won't hold water: Nikesh lives in DC, which has an income tax level comparable to Louisiana, Moseley says. If income taxes caused the dismal situation, it should exist in DC too. Right?
MAY 22 This post by columnist John Maginnis traces the trajectory of the bill that would fund construction at community and technical colleges -- and bypass the Board of Regents and traditional higher ed funding mechanisms. Sure, it will bust the legislature's self-imposed debt limit, but some leges feel that there's more need (because there is more growth) in the community and technical college area than in the university area, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.