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Kickback case claims presented

The federal government wrapped up its case Wednesday against personal injury attorney Noel Gage, who is accused of conspiring with doctors and a medical consultant to jack up medical costs in order to line their own pockets.

During the last two weeks, prosecutors called to the stand clients of Gage who were unaware part of their lawsuit settlements went to medical consultant Howard Awand.

The government contends that Gage and Awand, the only two individuals indicted so far, were involved in a network of doctors and lawyers who referred cases to one another, then accepted kickbacks when the lawsuits were settled.

Its two key witnesses were surgeons Benjamin Venger and John Thalgott, each of whom treated Gage’s clients.

Thalgott told jurors that after one patient, Melodie Simon, was paralyzed after a routine back operation, he worked with Awand to blame the anesthesiologist for the paralysis to avoid a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The government claims Gage abandoned Simon’s case against the surgeons at Awand’s request. In return, Awand referred to Gage the case of Carlos Pachas, who went into the operating room for kidney surgery and came out in a permanently vegetative state.

Gage settled that case for $18 million.

Venger testified that he lied under oath during a trial and deposition about the origin of a woman’s injuries to enhance her chances of winning her lawsuit. Gage was the woman’s attorney.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush will give jurors instructions today.

On Monday, Gage’s attorneys are scheduled to begin his defense. They plan to show jurors the government’s claims do not make sense.

Robert Carlucci, a member of Gage’s legal team, said his only option in the Simon case was to sue the anesthesiologist. Dr. Mark Kabins and Thalgott, who both performed the back surgery, told Gage her paralysis was not their fault. An independent expert supported that claim.

If Gage had not pursued the lawsuit against the anesthesiologist, Simon could have received no money rather than the $2 million settlement secured by Gage, Carlucci said. Gage’s success was due in part to the cooperation of Kabins and Thalgott.

“His (Gage’s) strategy was to divide and conquer,” Carlucci said. “The government is second-guessing that strategy, and you can’t do that in a criminal trial.”

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@reviewjournal.com or (702) 384-8710.

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