In a stunning move sure to surprise many political observers, West New York Mayor Felix Roque took the stand during his commercial bribery trial yesterday.
Under questioning from his co-counsel, John MacDonald, Roque said right off the bat that he never took any bribes and that he is not guilty in this case.
“Dr. Roque, did you accept any money from Rehan Zuberi for patient referrals?,” MacDonald asked.
“No I didn’t,” Roque quickly answered.
“Dr. Roque, did you sell your patients to Ray Zuberi for a referral fee?,” MacDonald inquired.
“No I didn’t,” Roque said again.
“Dr. Roque, what is your plea in this indictment?,” MacDonald continued.
“Not guilty,” Roque answered.
After a long discussion about his military, schooling and political history, Roque said large cash deposits previously explained by lead case investigator Anthony Correll were due to co-payments from patients who do not have insurance, as well as tenants without checking accounts who pay rent via cash.
Furthermore, Roque said that during six months in 2008 where he was allegedly paid cash bribes by Zuberi couldn’t have possibly happened since he was on active duty in Texas during those dates.
“What is exhibit 46? Don’t read it to us, just tell us what it is in general,” MacDonald said to Roque.
“It’s a travel order,” Roque responded.
“From who?,” MacDonald asked.
“The United State Army,” Roque, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, stated.
Roque went on to say that the order was issued in April 2008, ordering him to do a 179-day stay at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Under more direct examination from MacDonald, Roque testified that Zuberi and other members of his organization did not try to bribe him during this stay, nor did any of them meet him in Texas during this time.
After Roque admitted to Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Chief Deputy Attorney General Peter Sepulveda that he knew Zuberi, Jose Lopez and Judith DeLeon, simply as business contacts, Sepulveda questioned why he would send patients to Hackensack when many Hudson County MRI centers were available.
Roque had previously testified that he recommended American Imaging to patients since it was a “world class facility.”
In testimony that lasted all of 10 minutes collectively, Ruth Parente, Maria Rios and Alex Pino, all patients of Roque, said under oath that they were satisfied with the care Roque provided them.
They also all seemed to be in agreement that he never pressured them to go to American Imaging, or anywhere else, for MRIs.
Many local officials were in attendance for Roque’s first appearance on the stand, including Commissioners Cosmo Cirillo and Gabriel Rodriguez, Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez (D-7), Roque’s Chief of Staff/BOE Trustee Jonathan Castaneda, Police Director Robert Antolos and DPW Superintendent/Outgoing BOE Trustee Silvio Acosta.
Court will reconvene on Tuesday at 9 a.m.