While the state attorney general’s office says that West New York Mayor Felix Roque “sold his patients to the highest bidder,” Roque’s legal team countered that the government’s key witness has every incentive to lie.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Defendant Roque sold his patients to the highest bidder,” began Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Chief Deputy Attorney General Peter Sepulveda, who called Rehan Zuberi’s medical imaging business “a criminal enterprise.”
Zuberi, the former owner of Diagnostic Imaging Associates, is accused of giving Roque $250,000 in kickbacks between 2007 and 2012. He pleaded guilty to similar crimes back in May 2015 and faces up to 10 years in state prison for his crimes.
Members of the Zuberi organization “made a fortune billing for these MRIs, CAT scans, PET-CTs … they got rich … they made out like bandits,” Sepulveda added.
The prosecutor believes that the case comes down to key elements such as those who handled the cash bribes, those who engaged in money laundering, communications between Roque and Zuberi, cash deposits made in Roque’s personal bank account.
He also admitted that Zuberi, as well as others, that will testify are criminals, but noted that even by cooperating with the government, Zuberi cannot get more than two years removed from his state prison sentence (for a total of eight years).
Furthermore, that scenario only applies if Zuberi testifies against at least five doctors, any less will not take any time off his impending sentence.
Additionally, Zuberi must forfeit $1 million and never work in a Medicaid facility and/or any facility with government healthcare again. He also cannot apply for parole until he has served at least four years in prison.
Of course, John MacDonald, co-counsel for Roque, had a very different story to tell.
“Every trial tells a story, this is a tale of two men. It was the best of men and it was the worst of men,” began MacDonald, in a nod to Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.
“This case is about two men and the contrast between them. Dr. Roque and Mr. Zuberi do have a few things in common: both [are] immigrants born in other countries. One became a citizen immediately, one never bothered to. They’re both fathers, both have families and that’s where the similarities end.”
MacDonald continued that this case does not contain a single element of insurance fraud, any evidence that a patient was overbilled and/or provided any medical care that was not necessary.
He also claimed that Roque did not force anyone to use American Imaging in Hackensack, he simply recommended the facility, which about 30 percent of his referrals decided not to use.
MacDonald also pointed out that Zuberi had been charged with nearly identical crimes back in the late 90s and completely ignored a court order preventing him from owning another medical imaging business or billing Medicaid.
After serving his jail sentence, Zuberi billed Medicaid a stunning $8 million and opened 11 medical imaging facilities throughout the state, according to MacDonald.
MacDonald also stated that the AG putting a “bounty on doctors is unprecedented. Dr. Roque goes down, some other doctors go down, he gets time off. This bounty on doctors is a motive to lie.”
The attorney further stated that Zuberi is an “illegal alien” with “every reason to lie to try and stay in this country, to reduce his sentence.”
As part of his cooperation with the government, Zuberi is not expected to face any sanctions or penalties from Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In closing, MacDonald once again cited Dickens for the jury.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another. Dr. Roque, for the last 25 years, has lightened the burden of thousands of patients … In a couple days time, he’s gong to come before you and ask you to lighten his burden.”
Zuberi took the stand around 11:12 p.m. and is expected to be there for the remainder of the court session.