Awand refuses to testify before federal grand jury


Former medical consultant Howard Awand ignored a judge's order and again refused to testify Wednesday before a federal grand jury investigating fraud within the legal and medical professions.

Prosecutors now have the option of asking U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who ordered Awand to testify, to hold him in contempt.

Following Awand's 25-minute grand jury appearance, his Los Angeles lawyer, Harland Braun, said Awand has no intention of cooperating with the government.

"He doesn't want to be part of destroying the lives of other innocent people like him," Braun said.

Awand doesn't trust the government and doesn't believe its intentions are pure in the investigation, which after several years has yet to yield even one fraud conviction, Braun added.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Schiess, who questioned Awand Wednesday, declined to comment outside the grand jury room at the federal courthouse.

Prosecutors consider Awand, 66, the central figure in a network of lawyers and physicians that might have defrauded clients of millions of dollars. Doctors within the group were alleged to have been shielded from malpractice lawsuits, while group members shared kickbacks from legal settlements.

Awand, who is in federal custody, was sentenced in June to four months in prison after a conviction stemming from irregularities prosecutors uncovered in a medical malpractice case. He is serving the sentence concurrently with a four-year term from a separate conviction for failing to pay $2.5 million in income taxes.

During a roughly 30-minute visit to the grand jury on Sept. 22, Awand refused to testify against a handful of lawyers targeted by prosecutors. At the request of prosecutors, Mahan later ordered Awand to testify, but the order failed to persuade Awand to cooperate on Wednesday.

Braun said the questions were similar to those during Awand's last appearance.

Witnesses who refuse to testify before a grand jury can be held in contempt until they cooperate. A witness usually is jailed for the duration of the grand jury's tenure. The panel Awand is going before expires on Feb. 18, court officials said.

The contempt process, however, can be repeated when a new panel convenes.

Braun said he expects prosecutors will ask Mahan to hold Awand in contempt within the next couple of weeks. But Braun described that strategy as "futile" because Awand already is behind bars and plans to continue to make a stand on principle not to cooperate with the government.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.

 

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