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Awands will soon get bed and breakfast at government expense

Any dreams Howard and Linda Awand entertained of spending their golden years operating idyllic bed and breakfasts ended abruptly Tuesday morning.

A few weeks from now, they’ll be operating the chow line in stir.

Soft-spoken U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson took a Louisville Slugger to medical consultant Awand and wife during their sentencing on four charges of willfully failing to pay their income taxes. Howard Awand received 48 months — the maximum allowed for the misdemeanor convictions. Linda Awand caught a 36-month sentence. Dawson also ordered the couple to pay $2.47 million in restitution.

So much for the quaint notion misdemeanors mean light sentences.

The big question is not whether Dawson was justified. He was. Anyone who spends millions to support a lavish lifestyle without first giving the IRS its share is courting disaster. From 2000 to 2005, Howard Awand made more than $8 million from his controversial medical consulting endeavors and refused to pay his income taxes. Instead, the Awands bought antiques, artwork, luxury cars and bed and breakfasts in Indiana and Vermont.

A judge is allowed to send a message of deterrence, and Tuesday’s pummeling was certainly that.

But also remember Awand is a central figure in the FBI and IRS medical fraud investigation involving local attorneys and doctors, who are believed to have conspired criminally to inflate settlements in personal injury cases.

Linda Awand was by her husband’s side to observe some of his business dealings.

The question is whether the bruising sentences will finally lead to Awand and his wife cooperating with the investigation, which to date has had mixed results.

Those who have followed developments in the investigation have little doubt Howard Awand can deliver key players on the government’s wish list. Until Tuesday morning, I didn’t seriously believe he would be tempted to talk.

But at 65, Awand looks a decade older. He still faces sentencing on June 25 for his guilty plea on a misprision of a felony charge for his role in a doctor-lawyer fraud case. The misprision conviction carries the possibility of three additional years in the Boron B&B.

Awand managed to remain steady as he listened to the judge say he had perjured himself during his tax trial testimony.

Will he remain standing for long?

Linda Awand, 61, didn’t testify at trial or say much to her husband Tuesday. Dawson noted physical evidence and her husband’s own testimony placed her in the middle of the tax mess.

Not surprisingly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre declined to say whether the sentences would improve his office’s chances of going after other doctors and lawyers suspected of fraud.

“They took a ride on the taxpayers’ dime and they paid the price for it …” Myhre said. “This case stood four-square on its merits.”

Yes, it did. But it also has the potential for becoming a linchpin for future prosecution.

Howard Awand’s attorney Harland Braun contends the case never would have been brought had his client chosen to cooperate. In Braun’s 43 years of practicing law, he said he’d never seen four misdemeanors cost a defendant four years.

Then he ridiculed the charging of Awand’s spouse.

“Even the Italian Mafia spares women and children, but not the U.S. government,” Braun jabbed.

Linda Awand’s attorney James Oronoz added, “It’s completely draconian. It’s over the top. I mean, three years for this?”

“This sends a strong message,” IRS Special Agent in Charge Paul Camacho said. “You can go to jail. You can go to jail for a long time.”

Although the accommodations won’t be to their liking, both bed and breakfast will soon be provided for the Awands at government expense.

Unless, of course, they try to alter their reservations.

Something tells me operators are standing by.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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