Dentist Trial: Both Sides Argue Abuse of Power

Jury hears two testimonies in day one of Dr. Hamada Makarita's trial

In the first day of a trial expected to last about two weeks, a jury heard from a current and a former employee of an Oakton dentist accused of illegally distributing narcotics. 

The 14-member jury — selected Monday morning and composed of 11 men and three women — will be deciding the fate of Dr. Hamada Makarita, who pleaded not guilty to charges of

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema is presiding over the case.

In opening arguments, both the prosecution and defense presented the case as one about abuse. 

"This is a case about abuse. Abuse of drugs, abuse of women, abuse of power. Abuse by a man who didn't think he had to follow the rules," Special Assistant United States Attorney Danya E. Atiyeh said.

While Makarita's lawyer said he agreed it was a case of abuse, he denied his client is the one who abused power.

"This is a case of abuse, but not the case they outlined," said James Tate of the Vienna firm of Tate, Bywater & Fuller. "This is a case of abuse on account of the government."

Tate said the FBI took and turned it against him, believing Derder's assertions Makarita planned and executed a conspiracy to illegally dispense controlled substances to himself and friends. 

"She has almost a split personality, but she's not worth believing," Tate said. 

The prosecution called two witnesses for testimony Monday: Janet Williams, who has been employed with Makarita's practice since 2002, and Derder, a former employee who Makarita has terminated twice.

Both Williams and Derder testified — with the protection of immunity from the federal government — to knowledge Makarita cashed checks from the insurance company Aetna to Dr. Sameh Kassem for work Makarita — not Kassem — performed on his own parents. 

They both said Makarita submitted the insurance claims under Kassem's name to receive payment the claim would not otherwise be eligible for because they are related. 

Williams also testsifed that though records showed she and her husband, Ian, had been given prescriptions associated with dental work from Makarita, they had never actually received the work nor the prescriptions. She could not explain the discrepancy, nor did she assign blame to one of her coworkers.

But Williams said she did not witness any other wrongdoing on Makarita's part, She said she had never seen Makarita illegally use or dispense narcotics, nor did she have any knowledge of a conspiracy to distribute drugs illegally. 

In an attempt to discredit a major witness for the prosecution, the defense asked Williams several questions about Derder's work and personality. Along with the defense's assertion in the opening statement that discrepancies between patient files and prescriptions ordered could be chalked up to poor record-keeping on Makarita's part, the questions to Williams — and her answers — about Derder's duties as the practice's office manager aimed to show Derder had opportunities to perpetrate the crimes charged against Makarita without the doctor's knowledge. 

Derder took the stand after Williams, describing Makarita as a man who thought he could get away with fraudulent insurance claims and false prescriptions. She said she witnessed him take prescription medication for himself and at least one of his girlfriends. 

She admitted to her own wrongdoing, all under an immunity protection: She did not stop Makarita from using other patients' and employees' names to get pills; she aided him in obtaining the pills; submitted a false resume after her termination from Makarita's practice in order to obtain a new job at another doctor's office; aided Makarita in "upcoding" insurance claims for his friends and family; and, with Makarita's permission, submitted false bills for her daughter's father in order to receive the maximum benefit on his insurance during a time period when he was not paying child support.

The judge continued the case — and the remainder of the defense's cross-examination of Derder — until today once it became clear the defense would have to keep her on the stand long past 6 p.m. Monday. 

The trial, expected to extend into next week, will continue at 9:30 p.m. today in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

If convicted, Makarita faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on the health care fraud charge, 20 years in prison for conspiracy and each dispensing controlled substances charge, and a consecutive two-year sentence for the aggravated identity theft charge.

To read previous articles on this case, click here.

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