Doctor sentenced to home detention, community service

Pediatrician convicted of fraud is to provide free care for uninsured

April 12, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

An Ellicott City pediatrician convicted of Medicaid fraud was sentenced yesterday to 18 months of home detention and ordered to provide free medical care for uninsured children.

Howard County Circuit Court Judge Diane O. Leasure imposed the sentence, which spared Dr. Alfredo J. Herrera from jail, after a hearing that featured testimony from a series of community workers and volunteers - including a state senator and the chairman of Maryland's Transplant Resource Center.

Despite requests for jail time from Assistant Attorney General Catherine Schuster Pascale, who said Herrera's decision to perform unneeded tests on young children created a large number of victims, Leasure said she wasn't sure that jail would serve the interests of the state's residents.

Herrera's lawyer, Richard D. Bennett noted his client's long service to the community - much of it sparked by the death of Herrera's 16-year-old son in 1994.

"If there was ever a case where an individual deserves a break, deserves a little bit of compassion ... it's this case, Your Honor," he said.

Leasure gave Herrera a three-year sentence, suspending all but 18 months to be served on home detention, and three years of supervised probation. In addition, she ordered him to pay $200,000 in restitution and to perform 600 hours of community service - by providing free medical care to uninsured children.

Herrera, 53, pleaded guilty last month to felony Medicaid fraud, admitting to performing $100,000 in tests that were not "medically necessary," over a five-year period in the 1990s.

In March, Pascale said that Herrera performed a series of tests on well children and on children who had come to him complaining of ailments that had nothing to do with the tests.

As part of the plea agreement, the attorney general's office dropped three counts of tax perjury against Herrera in Anne Arundel County, but required him to file amended tax returns for 1996 through 1998.

Yesterday, Pascale said those tests created a large group of victims not normally seen in a fraud case, accusing Herrera of committing a form of "battery" on children who were already nervous about a visit to the doctor.

When he charged Medicaid for the unnecessary tests, he also tapped into a limited "pot of money" that could better be used for needed services, Pascale said.

"All of Dr. Herrera's actions show he was driven by greed," she said, arguing for the 18-month sentence to be served in jail. "Are we to send Dr. Herrera to his room for a crime where he can sit in front of his big-screen TV?"

But Bennett said Herrera's life shows anything but greed, presenting witnesses who talked about the doctor's involvement in transplant programs and in creating a program to encourage youths to drive safely.

"He's been nothing but a kind and competent doctor to my four grandchildren," said Frank Marcellino, a retired federal administrative law judge. "To send this man to jail would be a tragedy."

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