Defense attorneys drop out of doctor’s healthcare fraud case

McALLEN — Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada, who is fighting charges of healthcare fraud in federal court, lost two of his attorneys Tuesday after the judge allowed them to withdraw from the case.

Attorneys J.A. Tony Canales and Cynthia Gutierrez requested to be allowed to withdraw from the case after they became aware of audio recordings in which Zamora-Quezada criticized their job performance as his attorneys.

In requesting they be allowed to withdraw, the attorneys submitted transcripts of Zamora-Quezada’s comments, which he made during a phone conversation the doctor had while in jail. It is unclear who Zamora-Quezada was speaking with during those phone conversations, and the transcripts remain under seal.

Canales, who was the lead attorney on the case, said he had never before asked to withdraw from a case but he didn’t believe he could continue to properly represent Zamora-Quezada.

“I’ve lost the spirit,” Canales told U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa.

Gutierrez told Hinojosa she poured her heart and soul into her work and that it was hard to listen to Zamora-Quezada’s comments.

From what was discussed in open court, it appeared the doctor said he believed they were incompetent, and at one point used the word “imbecile,” though the judge noted the transcripts were translated from Spanish.

In granting their motions to withdraw, Hinojosa acknowledged he didn’t believe either Canales or Gutierrez were attorneys to easily walk away from a case and that it would be detrimental for Zamora-Quezada to keep them on.

“I wish the doctor the best,” Gutierrez said after the hearing. “I wish him and his team the best of luck and I hope that they do well in their defense.”

Zamora-Quezada faces multiple charges related to healthcare fraud stemming from an alleged scheme to defraud health insurers by making false diagnoses.

His wife, Meisy Zamora, was also charged with allegedly participating in the scheme and subsequently two employees of his medical practice were arrested — one for allegedly tampering with evidence and the other for money laundering. Those two additional charges were also brought against the doctor and his wife.

With the departure of two attorneys, two other members of the defense remain on the case: Benigno Martinez and Tomas Tijerina, both of the Law Office of Benigno (Trey) Martinez in Brownsville.

During the hearing, the judge also addressed the motions by Zamora-Quezada and his wife to release their seized assets, which the couple argued they need to pay for their defense.

Zamora, through her attorney Christopher Sully, argued that some of the seized assets were funds she received in a divorce settlement from a previous marriage and had nothing to do with her current husband’s medical practice.

Hinojosa said he would need more financial information from the defense attorneys before making a decision on the matter as well as on the issue of whether to amend the order to hold Zamora pending trial.

Both Zamora-Quezada and Zamora have been detained without bond since their arrests in May and late July respectively.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Hinojosa asked the government prosecutor, Andrew Swartz, to file a motion explaining why there was no other way to ensure Zamora’s future appearance in court, the justification the government has made in requesting to keep the couple detained.

The attorneys were instructed to file the additional information by the end of the day Wednesday, and another hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.