LAFAYETTE — A former Lafayette cardiologist who lost his appeal last week in a federal health care fraud case will be allowed to remain free while pursuing further legal challenges, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Dr. Mehmood M. Patel, 67, was sentenced in 2009 to 10 years in prison after his conviction on 51 counts of health care fraud.
Federal prosecutors alleged he billed government and private insurers for more than $2 million in unnecessary heart procedures, mainly stents and angioplasties.
A federal judge ordered Patel to report to federal prison in 2009, but the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals allowed him to remain free pending the appeal.
The 5th Circuit confirmed the doctor’s conviction and sentence last week, and federal prosecutors asked that Patel begin serving his prison term.
In a one-sentence order issued Wednesday, U.S. Circuit Judge Leslie Southwick denied the prosecutor’s request “at this time.”
Patel’s attorney, Amy Adelson, argued in court filings that her client should remain free because there are “very substantial legal issues remaining in this close and difficult case.”
The attorney wrote that Patel plans to ask the full 5th Circuit to rehear the case — rather than the three-judge panel that decided his appeal last week — and that Patel would ask for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court if the 5th Circuit denies a rehearing.
Federal prosecutors argued in court filings last week that Patel should be required to report to prison even if he plans further legal challenges because the doctor has little chance of success.
“There is, however, no unfairness in requiring Patel — like other convicted felons — to begin serving his sentence while he pursues such extraordinary (and unlikely) relief,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.
A federal jury convicted Patel of 51 out of 91 counts of federal health care fraud following a trial that took nearly three months.
Adelson wrote in court filings that continuing legal challenges to the conviction will focus on questions surrounding the dismissal of a juror during deliberations and on whether the judge should have declared a mistrial after jurors initially sent out a note stating they were deadlocked.
After receiving that note, U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon instructed the jury to continue deliberating and emphasized the time, effort and money involved in taking the case to trial.
Adelson wrote in court filings that a likely issue to be brought to the U.S. Supreme Court is whether the federal health care fraud law should be used to prosecute doctors when there is a dispute about what is deemed medically necessary.
The law should not “criminalize medical judgments about how to treat a patient,” she wrote.
In additional to the 10-year prison sentence, Patel also was ordered to pay a $175,000 fine and $387,511 in restitution.
Area hospitals also paid about $15 million to settle malpractice cases from patients and False Claims Acts lawsuits brought by the U.S. Justice Department in connection with Patel’s work.