Doctor’s trial pushed to September

McALLEN — The pending trial for a rheumatologist who in May was arrested on charges of healthcare fraud has been pushed to September after a federal judge on Friday ruled it a “complex” case.

Federal prosecutors requested the declaration in the case against Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada who was indicted on allegations he and members of his staff conspired to defraud health insurers by misdiagnosing and over-treating patients.

By declaring it complex, the case is excepted from rules set by the Speedy Trial Act. A case is allowed those exceptions where a case “is so unusual or complex” because of the number of defendants, the nature of the prosecution, the existence of novel questions of fact or law, or because it would be unreasonable to expect adequate preparation within the time limits set within federal law, according to Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

In pushing for the designation, prosecutors argued an August trial date would not allow them enough time to prepare given the large number of witnesses and the amount of evidence still to be reviewed in the case.

Much of the evidence consists of thousands of pages of patient files, the government prosecutor said Friday, adding that about 40 to 50 witnesses were expected to be called during the trial which he said is expected to last three weeks.

Though Zamora-Quezada’s defense attorneys didn’t outright oppose a “complex” declaration, the issue of the doctor’s bond was raised again.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa had previously ordered the doctor to be held without bond, which his attorneys asked to be reconsidered given that the complex order would prolong his detainment.

Hinojosa, however, said no new information has emerged in the case that would warrant revisiting the issue of setting a bond.

Zamora-Quezada is currently being held at the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa where he has been held for 56 days, his defense attorney said Friday.

The charges in his indictment include one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, five counts of healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The indictment states Zamora-Quezada and his co-conspirators submitted claims worth $240 million that were, in part, based on false or fraudulent statements. Upon questioning from the judge, the government attorney conceded that figure may not be accurate as to the total number of fraudulent claims but said the $240 million was the total billed to Medicare and Medicaid.

The correct figure, the government attorney said, was more of an issue for the sentencing phase of the trial which the judge pushed back on, pointing out that it could lessen the government’s credibility with a jury.

The judge also questioned prosecutors with whom the doctor is believed to have conspired to which the government attorney said those co-conspirators were employees at the doctor’s clinic. None of them have yet been charged.

Just from the discussion during Friday’s hearing, the judge said it was evident the case was an unusual one. Adding on top of that the large number of witnesses expected to be called in the case, the large amount of evidence, and the number of pre-trial motions yet to be settled, the judge agreed that it should be ruled a “complex” case.

A final pre-trial date was set for Sept. 4 with jury selection scheduled to take place the following day.