CINCINNATI - Along with his new criminal lawyer, Dr. Atiq Durrani, the Mason spine surgeon charged with health-care fraud, pleaded not guilty in federal court Monday afternoon.
Glenn Whitaker, who represented Northern Kentucky homebuilder Bill Erpenbeck in one of the area’s biggest fraud cases a decade ago, has replaced Bruce Whitman as Durrani’s trial attorney. Whitaker is a partner in the firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP.
Michael Lyon, the civil attorney representing Durrani in more than 160 lawsuits that claim the doctor performed unnecessary surgeries, explained the switch in criminal attorneys.
“Dr. Durrani has a long relationship with Vorys and Mr. Whitaker, and the fact is this is more of a malpractice case than a criminal trial,” Lyon said. “Glenn and I have known each other for many years. We tried cases against each other. Glenn’s an outstanding attorney. We should make a great team.”
Whitaker said he didn’t think the change in attorneys would delay the trial.
“I think we’ll move just as fast as the court wants us to,” Whitaker said.
Judge Sandra S. Beckwith has not set a trial date.
An Aug. 7 federal grand jury indictment accused Durrani of convincing patients to undergo unnecessary spine surgeries and billing private and public healthcare programs millions of dollars for the fraudulent services, beginning in 2009.
“They make an allegation of unnecessary medical surgeries. We will show they were medically necessary and there’s no basis for the allegation,” Whitaker said.
The federal charges carry a potential prison sentence of up to 125 years. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of any proceeds Durrani received as a result of his alleged scheme.
The indictment also alleges that:
> Durrani’s unnecessary surgeries resulted in serious bodily injury to some patients.
> Durrani would falsely say the patient was at risk of grave injuries without the surgery.
> Durrani lied to colleagues and hospitals in order to further his scheme.
In the Erpenbeck case, the government said he ripped off $34 million from eight banks and some 260 homebuyers by diverting sales proceeds into his company’s accounts, and then spending the money on his own lavish lifestyle.
In a 2003 deal with prosecutors, Erpenbeck pleaded guilty to one count of federal bank fraud and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Beckwith later cut five years off his sentence.
Lyon said there has been no discussion of settlement in the 160 lawsuits filed by Northern Kentucky attorney Eric Deters on behalf of Durrani patients.
"We're getting them ready for trial," Lyon said, noting that some cases have been scheduled for 2015. "There are so many of them it's going to take forever."
Durrani owns a private practice called the Centers for Advanced Spine Technologies (CAST) with offices in Evendale and Florence and performs surgeries at JourneyLite in Evendale, where he is part owner. He previously performed surgery at West Chester Hospital UC Health, Children's Hospital, Good Samaritan, Christ and Deaconess.