The trial of an Oakton doctor accused of illegally distributing narcotics and health care fraud continued Wednesday, bringing former employees and expert testimony to the stand for the U.S. government.
Dr. Hamada Makarita, 51, is facing charges of Makarita, who owns a practice on Chain Bridge Road in Oakton, pleaded not guilty to the charges in June.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi, Special Assistant United States Attorney Mazen Basrawi and Special Assistant United States Attorney Danya Atiyeh are representing the prosecution.
The government spent Wednesday afternoon questioning its expert witnesses, starting with Cheryl Hodgson, a senior investigator with the Department of Health Professions, who worked on the case against Makarita. A representative with Aetna's special investigations unit also testified regarding the alleged fradulent insurance claims for work Makarita did on his parents but submitted under the name of another dentist, Dr. Sammeh Hassem, in the years after Hassem worked in their practice.
The day ended with testimony from Dr. Lawrence Singer, who has a practice in Old Towne Alexandria and D.C., and has full privileges at George Washington University Hospital.
Singer told the 14-member jury that dental work rarely requires strong pain medications, such as Vicodin or Percocet, with most procedures requiring nothing stronger than Tylenol or ibuprofen. When strong medication is necessary, small doses to last the patient a few days should be prescribed.
Singer said the patient files in question from Makarita's office do not show dental work around the time those patients had prescriptions recorded, as shown through the Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program, and many of the prescribed dosages far exceed that which is necessary to manage pain associated with most dental work.
Today, the defense will have the opportunity to cross-examine Singer. The prosecution expects to rest later today. The trial at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria is expected to extend into next week.
In the morning, the proceedings picked up in the middle of the defense's cross-examination of Karen Derder, the practice's former office manager and employee for nearly 20 years. Makarita terminated Derder's employment in April 2010, accusing her of stealing from the practice's 401k program. Derder said she believes he fired her because she began expressing concern about his drug use — a habit he says he does not have.
The line of questioning from the defense lawyer, James Tate of the Vienna firm of Tate, Bywater & Fuller, continued its attempt to discredit Derder — a key witness in the U.S. government's case against Makarita because she claims to have witnessed Makarita perpetrate insurance fraud, distribute narcotics illegally to patients and take the drugs himself.
The government also called Derder's sister Candace Crowe, who is a patient of Makarita's, to the stand. After a few years of attending the practice, Crowe began receiving insurance claim checks directly rather than having them sent to the doctor's office.
Crowe — who, like her sister, is protected by an immunity agreement with the government — said Makarita asked her to cash or deposit the checks then reimburse him to help with his practice's cash flow, believing it would help with appearances while going through his divorce proceedings. She said she did not think it would be insurance fraud because she saw it as a legal check made out in her name for procedures the doctor performed.
Before the U.S. Attorney's Office's legal team began calling its expert witnesses, they asked a former dental assistant to offer her testimony. Masooda Azad, who said she was fired in April because the doctor believed her to be against him after the investigation began, described Makarita as an intimidating and demanding supervisor who often asked her to run both business and personal errands with precise and often unnecessary instructions on how to carry them out.
Azad said she twice discovered Makarita prescribing unnecessary medication under her name. Once she went through with picking it up. The second time she noticed how much was being charged to her own insurance, asked the pharmacist to make sure nobody could pick up the medication for her, then returned to the office without the pills. She testified that she then lied to Makarita, saying the pharmacy did not have the pills. Makarita became angry, she said, but never asked her to do it again.
The case continues at the U.S. District Court at 9:30 a.m. today.
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