Doctor's work questioned in FBI kickback sting


Defense lawyers have broken the cover of the doctor who ensnared medical equipment supplier Anil Mathur in an FBI kickback sting.

In court papers filed late last week, the lawyers said prosecutors have informed them that Dr. Robert Lampert wore a wire for the FBI in the Mathur case from February 2009 until January 2011.

"That's a substantial amount of time for a doctor to be out acting as an agent for the FBI," said Jacob Hafter, one of four seasoned lawyers defending Mathur.

The lawyers previously said they think Lampert, part of a team of lung specialists at Pulmonary Associates, was working for the FBI for a longer period of time, as far back as 2008, and may have tried to ensnare others in the health care profession.

Transcripts of recordings show Lampert tried to implicate a fellow physician in the undercover investigation of Mathur, the lawyers wrote in their latest court papers.

Lampert did not return phone calls .

Harold Gewerter, a lawyer for Pulmonary Associates, said the medical practice "is not involved in the Mathur case in any way, shape or form.

"In terms of any allegations concerning Dr. Lampert, whatever he did, was on his own and not part of his employment with Pulmonary Associates," Gewerter said.

Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the Nevada U.S. attorney's office, refused to comment.

Federal prosecutors have told defense lawyers that Lampert began secretly recording Mathur for the FBI after Mathur gave the doctor $5,000 in cash in December 2008 to steer business to his company, United Medical Supplies. Mathur was indicted on federal kickback charges in August.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Crane Pomerantz asked the lawyers in earlier court papers to use "discretion" and not publicly disclose the identity of Lampert, whom he described as a "confidential human source" for the FBI.

The lawyers learned of Lampert's identity through FBI reports Pomerantz had turned over describing the doctor's undercover activities in the Mathur investigation. They opted to reveal Lampert's name in a sweeping motion to dismiss the indictment, which they argued "amounts to a declaration of war" on physicians and health care executives.

In the motion, Hafter and the other three lawyers -- Paul Padda, Ruth Cohen and Robert Draskovich -- argued that prosecutors broadly interpreted the federal anti-kickback law to bring a case against Mathur that will have a chilling effect on the health care profession.

Prosecutors plan to file a response to the motion.

Mathur is charged with providing $26,150 in kickbacks to Lampert from December 2008 to December 2010 to obtain Medicare business. He sold oxygen supplies to the physician's patients.

Mathur faces nine counts of "offering and paying remuneration" under the federal anti-kickback statute. He is charged with making nine payments, varying from $1,500 to $5,150, to Lampert during the two-year period.

The statute is designed to "prevent inflation of the cost of medical treatment by the payment of referral fees" and prevent "the referral of patients for care that they do not need."

But Mathur's lawyers argued in their court papers that his indictment raises "alarming questions" of selective enforcement on the part of prosecutors.

"The government's investigation in this case was ill-conceived and poorly managed," the lawyers wrote. "Sadly, what the government is now selectively choosing to characterize as 'inducement' was in fact little more than a business relationship in which, at least in Mr. Mathur's mind, Dr. Lampert would simply promote and speak favorably to others about UMS in the hopes that those individuals might refer patients to UMS.

"Asking another person to promote one's business to others, and possibly offering remuneration for doing so, cannot be a crime under the anti-kickback statute. If it were, the FBI would be storming the marketing department of every pharmaceutical and orthopedic supply company."

Under the government's logic in the Mathur case, the lawyers wrote, a pharmaceutical sales representative who offers a doctor a candy bar at a hospital cafeteria could be prosecuted for a kickback. So could an orthopedic surgeon looking for Medicare referrals who buys an internist a beer at a bar.

The lawyers said Lampert tried to steer Mathur to a fellow doctor at Pulmonary Associates, but Mathur didn't take the bait.

"Apart from the very disturbing fact that Dr. Lampert was eager to ensnare/implicate one of his co-workers in an investigation, Mr. Mathur never followed up on Dr. Lampert's suggestion that he contact the other physician," the lawyers wrote. "If Mr. Mathur was truly motivated to engage in bribery and enrich himself, one would assume he would have done so."

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.