Doctors Reject Feds' Claim They Lined Their Pockets at Patients' Expense in Big Dallas Medical Bribery Trial

They're medical innovators and pioneers, their attorneys said, who saved some lives and improved many others. The surgeons brought patients to a "state-of-the-art" Dallas hospital called Forest Park Medical Center. But did they illegally put their own financial interests before everything else, including their patients? That's the basic question before jurors in the Forest Park Medical Center bribery case during opening statements Thursday in a packed Dallas federal courtroom. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Wirmani told jurors that the doctors acted out of pure greed, making medical decisions to "line their own pockets." The bribes and kickbacks, he said, were not bags of cash exchanged in dark alleys. Rather, the hospital gave the doctors financial perks in the form of paid business expenses -- expensive advertising to promote their practices, he said. And the conspirators used fake leases, sham companies, phony job titles and fake consulting agreements to hide the mutual enrichment scheme, Wirmani said. For some of the surgeons, it came to between $3.5 million and $6 million in total profits, he told jurors. In exchange for the billboard, internet and TV ads, the doctors had to bring a certain number of lucrative surgeries to the now-defunct Forest Park, Wirmani said. Common sense dictates that "strings were attached," he said. It was based on patient volume; the more patients a doctor brought to Forest Park, the more money they earned, he said. And when the medical procedures fell short, the payments dried up, Wirmani said. "It's about treating patients like a commodity," Wirmani told jurors. The Forest Park trial is one of the largest such cases in the nation and is considered a test case for future prosecutions. It is being closely watched by many in the healthcare industry. That's because the government is trying to make a bribery and kickback case involving not federal healthcare dollars, but private insurance. Many health care lawyers have advised doctors and other medical professionals over the years that they can set up such compensation agreements that otherwise might be illegal under Medicare and other federal insurance programs.   Continue reading...

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