Ex-consultant faces more time


U.S. District Judge James Mahan on Monday ordered Howard Awand held in contempt for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating fraud within the legal and medical professions.

Prosecutors consider Awand, 66, the central figure in a network of lawyers and physicians that might have defrauded clients out of millions of dollars.

He is in federal custody following his conviction in the investigation.

The contempt order adds more time behind bars for Awand until either the term of the grand jury expires on Feb. 18 or Awand decides to cooperate.

The hearing was held at the request of prosecutors, who want the former medical consultant to provide testimony about lawyers targeted in the investigation. Awand had ignored an order from Mahan and refused to answer questions under a grant of immunity when he was hauled before the grand jury on Nov. 10.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre sought to close Monday's hearing, arguing that by law all matters involving the grand jury are secret.

But Mahan ordered the hearing opened after a plea from Awand's Los Angeles lawyer, Harland Braun. A Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter was allowed to sit through the entire 45-minute proceeding.

Awand was brought to the courtroom in chains by U.S. marshals.

Mahan instructed Braun and Myhre to argue Awand's fate without referring to any information about the criminal investigation that has been presented to the grand jury.

Braun told Mahan on Monday that no matter what punishment Awand faces, he will not cooperate with prosecutors because they have "destroyed his life" and he doesn't trust them.

"He feels that he's been mistreated by the government," Braun said. "The entire government theory in this case is a fantasy."

Braun said the theory was born out of rumors circulated by insurance companies that started losing multimillion-dollar malpractice cases after Awand switched sides and began working as a consultant for lawyers suing the companies.

Most of the allegations the government is pursuing are old and beyond the statute of limitations, Braun argued.

He said prosecutors want to use the grand jury against Awand as a "perjury trap" to pile on more charges .

"They're trying to squeeze him to say something," Braun added.

Myhre argued that Braun did not present any just cause to keep Mahan from holding Awand in contempt for refusing to answer questions before the grand jury.

Mahan agreed, saying most defendants claim they are mistreated by the government.

"These are questions that could be answered to put this matter to rest," he said.

Mahan said he would make public a written civil contempt order.

Afterward, Braun did not criticize Mahan's decision.

"He did what he had to do," Braun said. "But people have principles that go beyond the justice system."

Braun said he might ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to consider Mahan's order.

In court, Mahan told Awand that he would not get credit for serving his prison time while he is jailed on contempt.

Awand was sentenced in June to four months behind bars after a conviction stemming from irregularities prosecutors uncovered in a medical malpractice case. He also is serving a four-year term from a separate conviction for failing to pay $2.5 million in income taxes.

Prosecutors can seek Awand's testimony before a new grand jury after the current panel's term expires in February, but if he continues to refuse to cooperate, they would have to repeat the contempt process.

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

 

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