Awand to testify before grand jury


Howard Awand, the imprisoned medical consultant at the heart of a multimillion-dollar legal fraud conspiracy, has been called to testify before a federal grand jury.

His Los Angeles defense attorney, Harland Braun, said Friday that he views the subpoena as a sign federal prosecutors are pressing ahead with an investigation of lawyers and physicians linked to the scheme in the aftermath of Awand's sentencing in June.

Federal authorities are transporting Awand, 66, back to Las Vegas from a federal corrections facility in Oklahoma City. He has been ordered to testify before the grand jury on Wednesday.

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

Braun said he doesn't know what information prosecutors want from Awand, but he insisted his client has nothing to offer.

"They've always believed that there was some gigantic conspiracy, but that's not true," Braun said. "There's nothing he can provide them because there's nothing there."

Braun described the government's persistence in the investigation as bordering on "obsessive-compulsive" behavior.

"I think the U.S. attorneys in this case can't believe that after all of this work and all of the press, they came up with zilch," he said.

The investigation has been ongoing for several years, but so far only one doctor, Mark Kabins, and one lawyer, Noel Gage, have been convicted with Awand, the only defendant to be sentenced to prison.

All three men pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from irregularities prosecutors uncovered in the handling of the medical malpractice case of Melodie Simon, who was paralyzed after spinal surgery in 2000. Two surgeons, John Thalgott and Benjamin Venger, were given immunity in exchange for their testimony.

Prosecutors alleged that Awand was the middleman in a conspiracy to protect Thalgott and Kabins, who operated on Simon. Gage, who represented Simon, sued anesthesiologist Daniel Burkhead instead of the surgeons.

Gage ended up settling the case for $2.3 million, but prosecutors argued Simon was entitled to more compensation for her injuries.

In June, Awand was sentenced to serve four months in prison concurrently with a four-year term from a separate conviction for failing to pay $2.5 million in income taxes.

Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined comment Friday on Awand's grand jury subpoena.

But at the time of Awand's sentencing, prosecutors said the lawyer-doctor investigation was important to the community.

"One of our goals in bringing this prosecution was to shed light on the practice that existed between the doctors and lawyers in violating the trust of their patients and clients," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said. "I think we were successful in doing that. It is a federal offense when someone violates their fiduciary duties and the trust of their clients in order to personally profit, and we will continue to prosecute those cases."

Federal Bureau of Prison records show that Awand is currently at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, a holdover facility for inmates in transit. Last month, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied his request for bail while he appeals his convictions. His release date from federal custody is listed as Feb. 19, 2014.

In court documents this week federal prosecutors tipped their hand about their plans to bring Awand back to Las Vegas. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Wenthe filed a motion seeking court authorization to take Awand's deposition as part of proceedings to ensure that he starts paying $2.5 million in restitution.

"He will be transported to the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse on Sept. 22, pursuant to subpoena, for an appearance during the afternoon in a separate matter," Wenthe wrote.

The prosecutor did not provide details of that matter, but Braun said it was Awand's grand jury appearance.

Wenthe said in his papers that he wants to take Awand's deposition before and after "Awand's appearance in the other matter."

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

 

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