The first thing they say to you is, "Don't speak to anyone about this."
"It could harm your case."
What "case"? Am I suddenly "a case"? I know that I was in a state of mental pandemonium after the raid on my office and three forfeitures of my bank accounts. I had been robbed of cash by the government and couldn't pay my staff salaries or the office bills. The clinic had been turned upside down, and all the medical charts removed.
The lawyers didn't know if the FBI agents would raid my office again or take new earnings from my bank accounts as soon as they were deposited. "It's possible," they said.
Were they trying to scare me? "You should be scared," they said.
I asked the lawyers, "Can I talk with my family?"
"Better not," they answered with conviction. "It's risky."
"Then...Who can I use as a sounding-board?"
"You can talk to us."
At $350 to $550 per hour, that's more expensive than a psychoanalyst.
But without lawyers, they told me, I wouldn't have a chance.
Then came the horror stories. People who had been destroyed by the federal government because they hadn't mounted a defense. People who had had everything taken away from them. People whose offices had been shut down, their licenses taken away. People who ended up in prison.
"Do you want to go to prison?' they asked "I don't think so," they said, not waiting for me to answer.
After my bank accounts were pauperized by the FBI I was told to get big-gun lawyers. My current lawyer, Mark Thomas, the one who had accompanied me to the clinic on the day of the raid, had been responding to my agitated questions, carrying me through the initial stages of shock. He was intelligent and calm.
"How can this happen?" I asked him.
"It happens all the time."
"But I didn't do anything."
"Apparently the government thinks you did."
I couldn't tell if Mark believed me or not. Did he think I was guilty? It was important to me that he know the truth.
Later on six different lawyers said to me, "It doesn't matter whether you're guilty or innocent." In fact, two lawyers informed me that it was a lot easier to defend a guilty person in a criminal case than an innocent one. If I truly were innocent, I was asking them to do a lot more work on my behalf.
"How can that be?" I asked, astonished.
"When we defend a guilty person, all we have to do is prove there isn't enough evidence to convict him. But with an innocent person we have to prove he's innocent!"
The logic of the law--or of lawyers--was beginning to concern me.
Mark told me that because of the bank forfeitures he knew I was going to need other lawyers. He wasn't a federal defense attorney, but a state attorney. Moreover, it hadn't been so long ago that he had been a state prosecutor. This could mean he understood the scheming conjectures of the prosecutor who was attacking me. But it could also mean he would sympathize with the prosecutorial viewpoint, having occupied the position himself for so many years before pivoting to "the other side."
I had been talking to a slew of federal defense lawyers in the past two months. There were lawyers in Washington, Atlanta, Denver, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York. There were firms with a thousand lawyers in Miami and Tallahassee. There were boutique law firms which prided themselves on personal service. There were multi-specialty firms that worked as a team, and there were mavericks who said they had done this before, I would be in good hands. Some wanted $200,000 as a retainer; one said my case would cost $1 million, perhaps more ("but what's it worth to stay out of jail?" he countered, when I gasped); others asked for $20,000, "and you can pay as you go."
Their websites were glossy, like magazines, rippling with their successes and sometimes giving tidbits of information, just enough to make a potential client think, "This guy really knows his stuff!"
But when I talked with them on the phone or in person, they didn't have any ideas about what exactly the federal government might be doing.
"We won't know until we get the affidavits," they explained.
"When will we get the affidavits?"
"Don't know. The feds have up to seven years to indict you." Indict is a fancy word for arresting a white-collar criminal--or suspected criminal.
"Am I going to be indicted?" I wanted to know, suddenly alarmed.
"I don't know. It could be any time. You should probably not plan to leave the state."
How could I be indicted without a trial? How could I be put in jail before even knowing what the case against me was about?
"It happens," the lawyers said. "All The Time."
But how can they do this? Are there no restraints on the federal government? Apparently there are very few. The quip I was laughingly told over and over was, "A Grand Jury can indict a ham sandwich."
The lawyers explained how such a thing can happen, but not why.
If a government prosecutor gets information from an FBI agent and it makes him want to investigate and arrest an American citizen, it's fairly easy because he can do it in secret. If he investigates, say, a doctor, and can prove to a judge or jury that the doctor is guilty of, say, fraud, and the doctor is fined, say, $1,000,000, that's a big feather in the prosecutor's cap! He's recuperating money for the federal government, which we know is heavily in debt. (The debt has to be paid somehow, doesn't it?) He might get promoted! He might even be able to run for political office! And in his campaign speeches he can boast that he has "cracked down on crime" and collected back X-amount of stolen dollars for "The American People."
So the FBI agents, acting on little suspicions, try to build a case. Sometimes they act on a complaint by a disgruntled employee, or a report by a patient who misconstrues the instructions on his Medicare statement saying he should report his doctor if he thinks he might have been charged for services he didn't receive. It helps the government that Medicare statements use language which is often incomprehensible to patients. (For example, counseling for nutritional problems like diabetes is listed on Medicare statements as "Occupational or Physical Therapy.") The inspired patient calls Medicare and reports that his doctor, whom he likes, has overcharged him. If the doctor is convicted of fraud, the patient may even get money, a whistle-blower's fee.
The FBI agents probably have a talent for exponentials. They take a small thing, like a piece of bubble gum, and inflate it. They need drama. The raid on my office was an example. Did the government need to recruit three or four dozen FBI agents from all over North Florida, armed with SWAT gear, to remove charts from a small Family Practice office? Were they expecting me to retaliate in some extraordinary and dangerous way? Did they need the publicity of TV-20 and The Gainesville Sun to prove to the public they were doing their job, protecting America, cracking down on bad doctors, showing all of us that crime lurks in the most unexpected places?
Then the FBI agents communicate to the Federal Prosecutors--in my case men named Corey Smith and Bobby Stinson (important men, to be sure)--that they have a criminal on their hands, and they give proof of some sort. (I am waiting for the proof. Neither my attorneys nor I have been able to identify anything in my personal or professional life that constitutes a criminal act. We have looked high and low. There aren't many places to look in a Family Practice office. ) The prosecutor wants to be convinced, especially if there is potential for a financial settlement or a fine. He puts together a document persuading the judge (Magistrate Judge Gary Jones, in my case) that the doctor is a criminal, and the office gets raided (as mine was, on June 16, 2011), and the doctor's bank accounts get robbed (as mine were, on August 6, 2011). He hopes to keep the money that was forfeited. It's a bit of a gamble.
The affidavits supporting the raid on my office and the depletion of my bank accounts by the government are "sealed." We cannot get the government to unseal them. They have said, in a Court Hearing (about which I will report in a future blog) that unsealing the affidavits would endanger the witnesses who provided the information that triggered the government to conduct its invasion of my life, my medical practice and my peace of mind.
There you have it. The government, constituted by FBI agents, Federal Prosecutors, and a Judge, can collude with one another to destroy a doctor's medical practice and reputation, take all the working capital and personal financial reserves that represent equity in the practice, and remove from a clinic all the medical charts necessary to provide good care to patients, without telling the doctor anything at all (for up to seven years) about why they are doing these things. They can then conduct a "trial" with a Grand Jury, presenting only one side of the case, in secret, so that the jury can't do anything with the "evidence" except convict the doctor, resulting in an indictment, and jail. I feel like a ham sandwich.
This is how a flurry of lawyers have explained it to me, anyway.
Of course I may not have any lawyers soon, because I haven't been heeding their advice not to speak about this to anyone. A blog is not exactly private.
It's possible I'll be writing my next blogposts from jail. I hope I am allowed to bring my laptop.