Move puts feds’ case in doubt

Once touted as a far-reaching investigation bound to take down high-profile doctors and lawyers, the federal government’s case experienced another setback Friday when prosecutors agreed to dismiss their case against the alleged conspiracy’s ringleader.

The move came after U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush said he was inclined to toss charges against Howard Awand, a self-proclaimed medical consultant, leaving the fate of the entire case in doubt.

Though the government agreed to withdraw the charges, it’s only a temporary concession. Prosecutors are appealing the case of Awand and co-defendant Noel Gage, whose case Quackenbush dismissed earlier in the year. The issues are identical in both cases.

The federal government contends Awand and Gage, a personal injury attorney, conspired with doctors to cheat injured clients out of settlements and enrich themselves. The two were the only individuals to be indicted last year, but many more attorneys and doctors were under investigation.

Once Quackenbush issues his order in the Awand case, prosecutors will be banking on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep their case alive.

“We do feel very confident in the evidence; these cases are still alive,” U.S. Attorney Gregory Brower said. “We expected to be in a different position today than we are, but we have to take it as it comes from the judge. It’s not over.”

Charges against Gage were dismissed three months after a jury weighed evidence presented at trial for a week and announced it could not reach a verdict. Gage’s legal team then raised questions about the fairness of the government’s immunity practices before he could be retried.

Quackenbush sided with the defense.

The government refused to grant use immunity to Dr. Mark Kabins, but two other physicians, Dr. John Thalgott and Dr. Benjamin Venger, were granted immunity and testified at Gage’s trial.

Quackenbush ordered prosecutors to also grant immunity to Kabins, whose testimony would have contradicted that of the other physicians, defense attorneys said. When they refused, Quackenbush dismissed the charges.

Quackenbush told prosecutors it is unfair to grant immunity to the physicians whose testimony fits with the government’s argument, but not the doctor whose statements might hurt the prosecution’s case.

Prosecutors argued that Kabins is a target of their investigation. If granted immunity, the government feared it could not later prosecute the doctor.

“We believe the judge’s ruling with respect to Dr. Kabins was erroneous and not supported by case law,” Brower said. “We feel confident we may get a reversal from the 9th Circuit.”

Circumstances surrounding the trial for Awand were no different; both Venger and Thalgott were expected to testify.

Awand’s attorneys had filed a motion for dismissal following Quackenbush’s ruling on Gage. Brower said he was not surprised by Quackenbush’s inclination in court Friday to take the same path with Awand as he had with Gage.

So Brower stipulated to dismiss the Awand case.

“Now we have expedited, consolidated appeals and we can allow the 9th Circuit to sort the whole thing out,” Brower said. “We can skip over the arguing and motion filing … and get it up to the appeals court.”

If the appeals court upholds Quackenbush’s ruling, all counts against Awand — including those that did not involve Kabins — will be permanently dismissed. If the judge’s ruling is reversed, defense attorneys agreed to have Gage and Awand tried together.

“If the judge is reversed on this issue, we agreed not to oppose a joint trial,” said Awand’s attorney, Los Angeles-based Harland Braun. “If he is affirmed, that will be the end of it.

“It’s one of those rare circumstances where each side wasn’t emotional about it; we were very realistic. We are betting the judge will be affirmed.”

Last month, the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled on a case involving similar arguments over immunity.

A defendant in a drug trial claimed his due process rights under the Fifth Amendment were violated when a key witness was not offered use immunity, which means testimony cannot be used against them but can be used to further an investigation.

The ruling, written by Judge Jay Bybee, acknowledges the dangers of a court intruding on the government’s discretion, but noted that in some cases it is appropriate.

“In exceptional cases, the fact-finding process may be so distorted through the prosecution’s decisions to grant immunity to its own witness while denying immunity to a witness with directly contradictory testimony that the defendants’ due process right to a fair trial is violated,” the Aug. 15 opinion stated.

In the indictment handed down last year, the government claims Awand was a self-proclaimed medical consultant who orchestrated a conspiracy scheme that included millions of dollars in kickbacks by inflating medical costs. The physicians involved were protected from medical malpractice suits.

During Gage’s trial, Thalgott testified that he and Kabins performed routine back surgery on a patient, Melodie Simon. Thalgott left town the day after the operation and Simon began to feel numbness in her legs after surgery and notified the nursing staff.

According to prosecutors, it took nearly 12 hours for Kabins to perform emergency surgery. Internal bleeding that placed pressure on Simon’s spine caused permanent paralysis.

Thalgott testified that he, Kabins and Gage, who represented Simon, had a secret meeting and decided to place the blame on the anesthesiologist.

Prosecutors said Gage initially told Simon that she could receive an $8 million to $10 million settlement. In the end, she received $2.3 million.

The government claims that Kabins and Thalgott were part of Awand’s network of doctors. In exchange for backing off a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeons, Awand promised Gage more lucrative cases, according to the government.

Venger, a neurosurgeon, said that he referred medical malpractice cases to Awand. The reward was substantial. Venger testified that he received nearly a half-million dollars in kickbacks from Awand during a one-year period.

David Chesnoff, who represents Kabins, said his client’s testimony will contradict the statements made by Thalgott and Venger.

Despite the setbacks, Brower said he has not lost faith in the case. He said Gage and Awand were the first to be indicted, but suggested many more indictments were on the way.

“This investigation is ongoing,” Brower said.

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

ad-high_impact_4
News
Thunder Mountain monument stands as a tribute to Native American culture
Caretaker Fred Lewis talks about Thunder Mountain monument in central Nevada, made from concrete and found items. The five-acre site is a tribute to Native Peoples of the West. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New CCSD superintendent Jesus F. Jara aims for 1st in the nation
On his third day as Clark County School District superintendent, Jesus F. Jara talks about his vision for the future during a visit to Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Ceremony Recognizes Refugee Students, Graduates
Rosy Mibulano, a graduate of Las Vegas High School who came to America from the Congo in 2015, was recognized in a ceremony for refugee students in Clark County. Like many other students relocated to Las Vegas from countries around the world, Rosy had a challenging high school experience, from learning English to adjusting to American customs and taking care of her family. On top of that, she wants to go to school to become a nurse so she can take care of her mother, who suffers from diabetes. The annual Refugee Recognition Ceremony celebrates the enormous lengths these young adults go through to create a new life for themselves. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul McCartney is worth over $1 billion
Sir Paul McCartney is one of the most celebrated and accomplished musicians in history. He just turned 76 on June 18. McCartney grew to international fame with the Beatles and went on to become a wildly successful solo musician. Paul McCartney’s net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth. In 2017, McCartney landed the No. 13 spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid musicians, earning $54 million for the year. On Thursday, June 20, McCartney will release a double A-side single featuring two new songs, "I Don't Know" and "Come On to Me." McCartney has yet to announce a title of his new album or when it will be released. Th album is expected to be released before he headlines the Austin City Limits Music fest in October.
Water leak at Mandalay Bay convention center
The convention center area of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas experienced major flooding Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Melinda Cook
Hollywood Memorabilia Up For Grabs at Las Vegas Auction
Elvis Presley's car, Marilyn Monroe's bras, Han Solo's blaster, and Jerry Lewis's "Nutty Professor" suit are just some of the items that are up for auction at Julien's Auctions at Planet Hollywood June 22 and 23. The auction's viewing room at Planet Hollywood is open to the public 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Saturday at Planet Hollywood. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Springs Preserve Exhibit Shows Off "Nature's Ninjas"
"Nature's Ninjas" arrives at the Springs Preserve, in an exhibit and live show featuring critters that come with natural defenses, from armadillos to snakes, poison dart frogs to scorpions and tarantulas (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CrossRoads of Southern Nevada psychiatric urgent care to open in Las Vegas
Jeff Iverson, who operates the nonprofit sober living facility Freedom House, is opening a private addiction treatment center that will operate a detoxification center and transitional living for substance users trying to recover. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser gives update of officer-involved shooting
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser provides an update about an officer-involved shooting at Radwick Drive and Owens Avenue in the northeast Las Vegas on Thursday. A robbery suspect was shot and killed. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Wayne Newton surprises burglars
Wayne Newton and his wife, Kathleen, arrived at their southeast Las Vegas home shortly before midnight on Wednesday to find two burglars inside their house. The burglars fled and were seen heading north through the property. Las Vegas police quickly set up a perimeter and launched an extensive search of the area, but the suspects were able to escape. It was unclear if the burglars got away with anything of value. Several items, under the watchful eyes of the police, were seen on the ground near the home's main driveway. Neither Newton, nor his wife, were injured. The Newtons were not available for comment.
Police Officers Turn Off Body Cameras
In four separate body camera videos from the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting released Wednesday, officers in a strike team are instructed to turn their body cameras off and comply with the request.
Debra Saunders reports from Singapore
Las Vegas Review-Journal White House correspondent talks about the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.
How long will North Korea's denuclearization take?
In Singapore, Las Vegas Review-Journal White House correspondent Debra Saunders asks President Donald Trump how long North Korea's denuclearization will take. White House video.
LVCVA purchase of gift cards hidden
A former LVCVA executive hid the purchase of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards in records at the agency. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, said the money was for promotional events and did not disclose that it was for gift cards. Lawson also instructed Southwest employees to submit invoices without mentioning the purchases were for the cards. More than $50,000 of the cards cannot be accounted for. The convention authority is publicly funded . Lawson recently resigned.
Kim Jong Un visits Marina Bay Sands in Singapore
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his entourage visited the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore briefly Monday night, local time. (Video by Philip Chope)
Coca-Cola Bottle Purse Has 9,888 Diamonds
Designer Kathrine Baumann and jeweler Aaron Shum set the Guinness World Record for most diamonds (9,888) set on a handbag. The Coca Cola bottle-shaped purse was on display at the Coca Cola Store on the Strip. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sentosa Island a pleasure resort with a pirate past
The site of Tuesday's U.S.-North Korea summit is known for theme parks and resorts. But before that, it was known as a pirate island. (Debra Saunders/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judge Sandra Pomrenze's comment about girl's hair
Nevada Races Full of Women From Both Sides
It's already been a historic election season for women in politics. Record numbers of women are running for political office all over the country - including Nevada. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
East Las Vegas home damaged by fire
Clark County Fire Department crews responded to a house fire in east Las Vegas Thursday morning. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
911 call: Mom tries to get to son shot at Route 91
A woman stuck on the interstate during the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas, tries to get to her son. 911 call released by Las Vegas police.
Las Vegas 911 caller reports people shot on Oct. 1
A 911 caller on Oct. 1, 2017, reports several people shot at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas.
911 call from woman under stage in Las Vegas shooting
A 911 call from a woman underneath the stage at the Route 91 Harvest festival during the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas shooting.
LVCVA facing scandal over gift cards
LVCVA is facing a growing scandal over airline gift cards. LVCVA bought $90,000 in Southwest Airline gift cards between 2012 and 2017. Now auditors can’t account for more than $50,000 of the cards. CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and his family used $16,207 in gift cards on 56 trips. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, was responsible for buying and distributing the cards. He recently resigned.
Siblings separated in the foster care system get a day together
St. Jude's Ranch for Children and Cowabunga Bay Cares program partnered to bring 75 siblings together for the day to play on the water slides and in the pools at the Henderson water park. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People flee the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017
Las Vegas police released footage from a camera on Mandalay Bay of the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017
Aaliyah Inghram awarded medal of courage
Aaliyah Inghram, a 10-year-old girl who was shot while protecting her 18-month-old brother and 4-year-old cousin during a shooting on May 8, awarded medal of courage. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Las Vegans Pack Public Lands Open House
A crowd filled the Clark County Library conference room Tuesday afternoon where Clark County officials hold their first -- and possibly only -- public meeting on plans to open almost 39,000 acres of federal land for development just outside the Las Vegas metropolitan area. County commissioners are set to vote June 19 on a potentially controversial resolution seeking federal legislation that would set aside tens of thousands of acres for conservation while giving Nevada’s largest community more room to grow. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like