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Judge sets Awand contempt hearing

U.S. District Judge James Mahan set a Dec. 27 hearing on whether to hold former medical consultant Howard Awand in contempt for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating fraud within the legal and medical professions.

The hearing was scheduled at the request of prosecutors, who want Awand to provide testimony about several lawyers targeted in the investigation.

Awand’s Los Angeles attorney, Harland Braun, said Monday that he was unhappy about the date being set on the heels of the Christmas holiday weekend.

“I thought it was discourteous to me without even checking with my calendar,” Braun said, adding he has family coming to Los Angeles for Christmas.

Awand, who is in federal custody, ignored an order from Mahan and refused to answer questions when he was hauled before the grand jury on Nov. 10.

“He doesn’t trust the system,” Braun said . “He thinks the government has been out to get him. He believes they’ve destroyed a lot of lives in this investigation, and he doesn’t want to be responsible for destroying anyone else’s life.”

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 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.

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.

Since Awand already is in custody, prosecutors are likely to argue that Awand should not get credit for his time behind bars toward his sentences if he is incarcerated for contempt.

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

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