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Texas doctor accused of big role in $240 million health care fraud

It's a long, hot drive from Houston down to Mission, Texas. Once a sleepy border town about 350 miles southwest of us, Mission is now a booming city of 80,000 and growing.

In a recent court hearing there, a doctor pleaded not guilty to federal white collar crimes that include health care fraud and money laundering. The 61-year-old is accused of misdiagnosing patients so that he could administer to them costly drugs at government expense.

Federal prosecutors allege that the Mission rheumatologist was part of a $240 million health care fraud and money laundering operation.

They claim the doctor prescribed and administered "unnecessary chemotherapy and other toxic medications to patients with serious diseases -- including some of the most vulnerable victims imaginable," an acting Assistant Attorney General said.

The doctor helped run clinics in the Rio Grande Valley and as far north as San Antonio.

The federal government says his participation in the fraud made him wealthy. They point to his private jet, Maserati, Louis Vuitton clothing, Porsche and high-end real estate on both sides of the border as evidence of wrongdoing. The indictment includes a request that the forfeiture of the jet, cars and residential properties in Texas, Colorado and Mexico.

The indictment says the physician has been part of the operation since 2000. He and his co-conspirators allegedly put patients through batteries of tests and then issued false diagnoses so that expensive treatments could be ordered, administered and then paid for by Medicare.

Before the doctor - or anyone in similar circumstances - speaks to a prosecutor, they should sit down and talk with a criminal defense attorney experienced in white collar defense.

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