Surgeons Accused of Taking Hospital Kickbacks: Our Lawyers Signed Off on the Payments

Criminals rarely consult with their attorneys before planning to break the law. That is the argument several surgeons want to make in the Forest Park Medical Center bribery trial that's underway in federal court in Dallas. But before they can call their first witness, defense lawyers are locked in a heated battle with government prosecutors over whether they should even be allowed to put on an "advice of counsel" defense. Prosecutors have asked the judge to keep out any testimony from health care lawyers who advised the surgeons on how to set up third-party entities to handle marketing payments. Those marketing payments are key to the government's case. Prosecutors say the doctors used the marketing contracts to conceal bribe payments they received from Forest Park for bringing surgeries to the hospital, an illegal quid pro quo. As Alan Beauchamp, the hospital's top manager, put it during his testimony: "We papered it up to look good." Beauchamp, who pleaded guilty in the case, said he was "buying surgeries" with the marketing money. But defense attorneys say the fact that their clients consulted with their expert health care lawyers proves that they had no intent to violate any laws. U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary has yet to rule on the matter, but has indicated he is inclined to allow limited testimony from the expert lawyers. The government rested its case last week after five weeks of testimony. But the evidence is generally circumstantial. As defense attorneys pointed out recently, there were no emails, recordings or other smoking guns showing that the doctors and other defendants intended to break the law. Nine defendants, including four surgeons, are on trial for allegedly paying and accepting bribes and kickbacks from Forest Park in exchange for the referral of patients. A total of 21 people were charged in 2016 in the $200 million health care scheme. Many have pleaded guilty, some of whom testified for the government during the trial.   Continue reading...

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