4 doctors NOT GUILTY in Medicare case

The Detroit News

June 2, 2004 Wednesday No dot Edition

SECTION: METRO; Pg. 3B

They were accused of conspiring to skip copayments, changing tests to collect more

BYLINE: David Shepardson

Four suburban doctors accused of defrauding Medicare out of more than $16 million were found not guilty by a federal judge Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani acquitted the four doctors, who worked at a Wayne County clinic, following a five-week trial in which 60 witnesses testified before the judge. The doctors voluntarily gave up their right to a trial before a jury.

The government indicted 10 doctors in 2002, accusing them of bilking the money out of Medicare by billing the government for tests they didn't perform, not collecting the required co-pay from patients and conducting unnecessary tests. They doctors also allegedly "coded" visits as "more complex" to earn more money.

"The government has not been able to identify any motivation for the alleged fraudulent coding," Battani ruled in a 31-page-opinion, noting that they doctors received a flat fee of $50 per patient. "There would simply be no benefit ... to assign a higher complexity code than necessary."

The FBI began investigating in 1995 and executed a search warrant in 1997. Five years later, the government indicted the doctors. The lead defendant, Samuel Ajiri, apparently fled to Nigeria or South America.

Before trial, Judge Battani dismissed charges against five of the doctors, citing the statute of limitations.

The remaining four (4) physicians who went to trial...were all found not guilty.

"This is a nightmare that's lasted 9 years for these doctors," said lead attorney Allen Wolf. "The bottom line is these doctors were never trained or educated in how to bill Medicare."

Wolf noted that the doctors were arrested at their homes by the FBI and marched out in handcuffs in front of their children in some instances. "These were doctors trying to offer poor people good medical care," Wolf said.

The judge heard testimony from many elderly patients who received care from Mobile Doctors, a Detroit clinic that served low-income patients throughout Wayne County.

"It has not been established that the defendants were aware that they were engaged in any fraudulent or otherwise illegal activity," Battani wrote.

The U.S. Attorney's Office didn't comment on the case.