Trial in healthcare fraud case set for Monday

The trial for Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada, the rheumatologist accused of healthcare fraud, was pushed from Thursday to next week in federal court.

Zamora-Quezada, along with his wife, Meisy Zamora, and two of their employees — Felix Ramos and Estella Santos Natera — are accused of participating in a scheme that involved defrauding health insurers by misdiagnosing and over-treating patients.

All four pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

In September, U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa scheduled jury selection and the trial for Nov. 21 but during a hearing on Monday, that was pushed back a few days to Nov. 25.

As the day fast approaches, attorneys for the defendants and attorneys for the government have filed motions regarding what evidence can be introduced during trial or discussed in the presence of jurors.

On Monday, the attorney for Meisy Zamora, Christopher Sully, filed a motion requesting a bench trial instead of a jury trial, arguing the judge would be much more capable of “understanding the complex medical and legal issues at play in this trial” and would do away with the need for such extensive expert testimony.

He also argued that because of the publicity garnered by the case, it would be difficult to find jurors “that have not been tainted by that publicity” and stated it would be virtually impossible to find 12 jurors as untainted and fair as the judge would be.

The motion notes that the attorneys for the government are opposed to a bench trial but argues that they have not provided a reason for their position.

“The government, which usually embraces the opportunity to have a bench trial, has offered no reason, much less a compelling one, to work the hardship of a nearly monthlong jury trial during the holidays on the Court, its staff, jurors, witnesses, defendants, and counsel, when the length of trial can be significantly shortened through a bench trial,” the motion states.

The attorneys for the government filed their own motion on Monday seeking to prohibit the defense from discussing Zamora-Quezada’s “good conduct,” or arguments that some of his clients were properly diagnosed or satisfied with their treatment.

“However, any specific instances of good conduct or good character is irrelevant to the conduct charged in the Superseding Indictment,” the government attorneys stated in the motion, arguing that examples of legitimate medical practices would not make the alleged, illegitimate acts more or less probable.

Other evidence or arguments that the government is requesting to prohibit during the trial include pointing out the presence or absence of someone on the witness list, which other people have or haven’t been charged in the case, allegations of misconduct, arguments that encourage jurors to ignore the law or not follow the court’s instructions, the potential punishment for the defendants, the defense attorneys personal opinions of the defendants, the use of FBI agents’ interview notes, or any evidence intended to shift blame to health insurance companies.

A status conference on the case is scheduled for Thursday morning.