Disgraced Baton Rouge psychiatrist Dr. Zahid Imran stood before a federal judge last month and recalled how he wanted to turn Shifa Community Mental Health Center, which opened in 2002 on Goya Avenue, into a model for the rest of the country.
But Imran, whose dream came crashing down in May when he pleaded guilty to health care fraud conspiracy, admitted to Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson that, “at some point, things went wrong.”
What went wrong, U.S. Justice Department attorney Dustin Davis told the judge, is that Imran “lost his way” and allowed his desire for money to overcome his desire to treat the mentally ill.
Imran, 56, must now report to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons by Sept. 29 to begin serving more than seven years in federal prison for his role in what prosecutors called a sophisticated scheme that defrauded Medicare out of tens of millions of dollars for unnecessary and never-provided services.
Ironically, seven years was the duration of the scheme that resulted in the conviction of Imran and 16 others, including Hoor Naz Jafri, 54, also of Baton Rouge.
“He’s the reason this fraud carried on for seven years,” Davis said of Imran, noting that he pocketed $1.9 million over the course of the scheme. “You were in a unique position to stop this thing in its tracks,” Jackson told Imran.
Jafri, who was part owner of not only the Shifa facility on Goya but also Serenity Center on Lobdell Boulevard and a Shifa facility in Houston, was sentenced Aug. 18 to more than eight years in federal prison. Jackson ordered her to repay more than $43 million to the U.S. government.
At his Aug. 25 sentencing, Jackson ordered Imran to pay nearly $24 million in restitution. Imran was medical director of the Goya facility and co-owned and operated Serenity. He also co-owned the Houston center.
Jackson, who said he received dozens of letters of support on Imran’s behalf, allowed character witness testimony at the sentencing.
Eula Ghoram said Imran treated her 36-year-old son for paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder at Shifa in Baton Rouge before it closed.
“Dr. Imran saw him for free after they shut Shifa down,” said Ghoram, who pleaded for leniency. “Dr. Imran saved my son and he saved my whole family.” She said her son is no longer getting arrested or trying to harm himself.
Registered nurse Cheryl Buxton told Jackson that Imran turned her life around after she lost hope.
“This man saved my life,” she said. “My life is no longer gloom and doom. My heart is saddened today. He saved me from myself and my self-destructive behavior.”
The Rev. Samuel Tolbert Jr. said Imran volunteered his time, supplies and support after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Jason Williams, one of Imran’s attorneys, argued Imran has led a productive life. “For most of that life, he has helped,” Williams said.
But Davis said Imran contributed to the “pandemic” health care fraud in the Baton Rouge region. He added it was Imran’s greed that ultimately caused his downfall.
The clinics took advantage of the elderly as well as drug addicts and chronically mentally ill people by providing them with no services, inadequate services or clinically inappropriate services, prosecutors said.
Imran accepted responsibility for his actions and said he will one day make the judge proud of him.
Joe Gyan Jr. covers courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com.