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If case is not just fantasy, pressure great on Awands to cooperate

Howard Awand came to federal court Tuesday wearing a sweater-vest and khaki slacks, more appropriate for a fireside chat than federal court. Throughout most of his sentencing he had a pleasant, half-smile on his face. The former Las Vegan tried to take the blame for failing to pay nearly $2.5 million in taxes and insisted his wife, Linda, wasn’t responsible. “My wife relied on me,” Awand said.

Nice try, but it didn’t work.

U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson followed the sentencing guidelines and the presentencing report recommendations. He ordered the medical consultant to prison for four years and handed his wife a three-year sentence. The judge said Linda Awand was a sophisticated woman who was involved in the couple’s decisions to deliberately not pay their taxes for the years 2001 through 2004.

Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Myhre argued that this was not a case of mere delinquency. The Awands had the money; they chose not to pay their taxes so they could continue a lavish lifestyle. Even Dawson took note of the antique desk they bought for more than $125,000 when they hadn’t paid their taxes. During those four years, the Awands earned more than $8 million and spent $6.7 million. Another $1.4 million is unaccounted for, the prosecutor said.

The couple hadn’t seen each other since January, when a jury convicted both of four misdemeanors. They were ordered to turn themselves in July 24 to begin serving their sentences and to pay
$2.5 million in restitution.

He’s 65. She’s 61. Not good ages to go to prison. They’re bankrupt. She lives in Vermont and runs a bed and breakfast; he lives in Indiana and does the same. Will either of them flip?

Awand’s attorney Harland Braun said, despite the prison sentence, Awand would not be cooperating with the government to provide information about an alleged doctor/lawyer conspiracy in Las Vegas because there was no conspiracy.

Let’s see if that holds true after the Awands have served, say, six months in prison.

“This is all about forcing him to testify about some wild conspiracy that never existed,” Braun said after the sentencing. “He was willing to testify, but he wouldn’t lie.”

Since just a few minutes earlier the judge had said Awand lied in court, and Awand admitted he lied about being a CIA agent and a Vietnam vet to create a “persona” for his medical consulting business, Braun’s claim seemed a stretch.

In court, showing his unwavering support, sat attorney Robert Vannah. He was suspected of (but never charged with) being part of a group of doctors and lawyers who allegedly worked in cahoots to drive up personal injury settlements. Awand was the middleman, who found lucrative cases then helped attorneys win those cases by providing doctors to testify, not always truthfully, according to federal prosecutors.

The investigation became public in 2005 when Vannah was the first to say in court federal officials were investigating him and others.

In the doctor/lawyer case, Awand pleaded guilty to misprision of felony, meaning he saw a crime and didn’t report it to officials. He will be sentenced June 25 in that case. He should receive a far gentler sentence for that one felony than the four tax misdemeanors.

Braun will appeal the tax case and ask that the couple remain free while on appeal. If they remain free, the pressure to cooperate in the doctors/lawyers case decreases dramatically.

The clock is ticking. The five-year statute of limitations runs out about October 2011 in the ongoing investigation of doctors and lawyers.

One would think the pressure on the Awands to cooperate is immense if the conspiracy is not, as Braun contends, just a fantasy of federal prosecutors.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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