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 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
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.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.