West New York Mayor Felix Roque was found not guilty on one count of commercial bribery by a jury of his peers late this afternoon.
As Hudson County View first reported on our Facebook page (see end of story), Roque was acquitted in the 11th hour, approximately 4:40 p.m., just when it seemed all but certain the jury would need a day to sleep on it.
The state attorney general’s office alleged that Roque took nearly $250,000 in cash bribes in exchange for referring patients to a medical imaging center in Hackensack between 2007 and 2012.
Multiple witnesses from the now defunct American Imaging Center in Hackensack testified that they were under the impression that they had played a role in driving or delivering cash to Roque, but no one besides Rehan Zuberi testified actually handing Roque cash.
Zuberi and the majority of the state’s eight witnesses, with the exception Correll and Ramon Urena, were either arrested as part of Operation RayScam, a crackdown on improper healthcare practices throughout the state, or had other legal problems related to the healthcare industry.
Earlier in the day, the jury asked to rehear the testimony of Judith DeLeon, the former manager of American Imaging in Hackensack, and Raza Chudry, another former driver for Zuberi who previously pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud.
DeLeon admitted that she was initially hesitant to talk to law enforcement officials about the defendant since “I like Dr. Roque,” but went on to say that the pain management specialist was sending a lot of referrals to her office “in the beginning” before tapering off in 2012 and 2013.
Meanwhile, Chudry admitted that he delivered manila envelopes to Roque, but ultimately said he thought he was delivering radiology reports and never actually checked to see what was inside the envelopes.
The jury also asked what year Roque went on active duty, which was 2008, a topic that he was pressed on during cross-examination.
During closing arguments, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Chief Deputy Attorney General Peter Sepulveda told the jury Roque “told a blatant lie” by testifying he went on 179 days of active duty for the U.S. Army in 2008.
Roque said he served the majority of his leave, but went on to testify that he was back in September, rather than December, after having the opportunity to think about it over the weekend.
“There’s a lot of doctors that were involved in this ordeal and there was a bounty placed on every doctor, we’re talking over 30 doctors, and in that bounty, this gentleman was supposed to get reducing [sic] in his jail sentence,” Roque said of Zuberi.
Zuberi, who presented himself as a marketing rep, had a major role in running and operating American Imaging and other offices throughout the state under the Diagnostic Imaging Affiliates banner.
The state’s key witness, Zuberi testified that he would have two years removed from his 10 year prison sentence if he implicated no less than five doctors in their healthcare crimes. He also served jail time in the 90s for similar improprieties.
“Here we are: we have a felon, a two-time felon, from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, being in this country illegally who makes out a deal with the state and now he’s going to be able to stay in this country, again, to be able to commit further crimes.”
Roque went on to call Zuberi’s deal with the state “absurd” and the case against him “unfair” due to the heartache he and his family had to go through since last summer: all for a case that had no hard evidence.
Nevertheless, Roque, who was born in Cuba, praised the attorneys, judge and jury involved in the case for a job well done, stating things would not have gone so smoothly in his homeland.
” … If it would’ve been in Cuba, I guarantee you I would’ve been shot today,” the mayor said after praising the freedoms and justice system in this country.
The is the second time Roque has beaten the government inside the court room, the first being when he was acquitted of federal hacking charges in October 2013.
John MacDonald, one of his co-counselors in this case, represented him back then as well.