Four men conspired to defraud Medicare of approximately $2.5 million, federal prosecutors told jurors in a Baton Rouge courtroom Tuesday.
Defense attorneys argued the government used tainted testimony from a woman with three prior convictions to bolster their case. And they argued that prosecutors mistook altruistic business practices for a criminal conspiracy that ran from December 2003 through March 2009.
“Each of these folks was involved in a conspiracy … to commit health-care fraud,” Justice Department prosecutor David Maria told the jury of six women and six men.
The defendants are Nnanta Felix Ngari, 54, of Prairieville; Henry Lamont Jones, 36, Zachary; Dr. Sofjan M. Lamid, 82, Mandeville; and Ernest Payne, 51, Houston.
Lamid is accused of accepting kickbacks for prescribing medically unnecessary power wheelchairs for patients he met at health fairs.
Those wheelchairs were purchased from Ngari’s Unique Medical Solution Inc., which had an office in Baton Rouge.
Jones and Payne, who lived in the Baton Rouge area at the time, are accused of recruiting patients to health fairs so that Lamid could rubberstamp prescriptions for Ngari’s power wheelchairs.
“This wasn’t just a case of bringing him (Lamid) prescriptions to sign,” Martin E. Regan Jr., the physician’s attorney, told jurors.
Confessed patient recruiter Bonnie Simmons, 60, of Kentwood, falsely testified that Lamid accepted kickbacks, Regan said.
“She (Simmons) has three prior felony convictions,” Regan added. “She lied to the FBI. She also lied to the grand jury. She hasn’t been sentenced yet.”
Regan said Simmons has yet to be sentenced because “the prosecution doesn’t trust her.”
“This case does not revolve around her (Simmons),” countered Justice Department prosecutor Ben Curtis.
Curtis said all four defendants “blatantly and successfully stole money” and “defrauded the Medicare program, as well as the taxpayers who fund it.”
Regan argued that Lamid helped poor people who needed the power wheelchairs.
Prosecutors produced three recipients who testified they did not need the expensive equipment provided by Medicare.
Lamid testified that the witnesses may have been intimidated by an FBI agent who visited them during the investigation.
“There’s nothing honorable about what Dr. Lamid did,” Curtis told jurors.
Regan referred to the prosecution’s case as “a bunch of rubbish.”
Maria, the other prosecutor, said Jones received more than $100,000 and Payne more than $60,000 for attracting poor, rural patients to health fairs and obtaining wheelchair prescriptions from Lamid.
The prosecutor said Lamid received kickbacks of $50 to $100 for each prescription. Maria also said Ngari knew at all times that the scheme was illegal.
C. Frank Holthaus, Jones’ attorney, told jurors to remember that Abraham Lincoln once warned that government officials can win unwarranted victories by telling partial truths.
“The government stood up … and said the man (Jones) provided no services,” Holthaus said. He said Jones organized health fairs that helped people.
Earlier, defense attorney Edward J. Gonzales said prosecutors failed to prove their conspiracy allegations against Payne. Defense attorney Andre Belanger made a similar statement on behalf of Ngari.
The trial in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James J. Brady has lasted nearly three weeks. During that time, one male juror suffered a family emergency and was replaced by a female alternate.
Regardless of what the jury decides in the current case, both Lamid and Jones face additional charges in another federal case.
Allegations in the other case push alleged Medicare losses attributed to the two men and associates to more than $14 million, Curtis and Maria have stated in court filings.