Detelich photo

Brent J. Detelich

A federal judge has refused to acquit a former Shenango Valley chiropractor found guilty by a jury of health care and mail fraud, but left open the possibility of ordering a new trial.

Brent J. Detelich, formerly of Clark, was convicted in March, but his attorneys had filed a motion to acquit following the prosecution’s case and at the close of testimony. U.S. District Court Judge Joy Flowers Conti, Pittsburgh, reserved judgment until after the trial, and Detelich’s attorneys later added the request for a new trial.

Detelich, 37, was charged with having his staff at Detelich Chiropractic and Advanced Medical and Holistic, both formerly of Hermitage, request payments from Highmark Inc. for services to patients that were not performed through 2000.

His attorneys, Robert J. Ridge and Lourdes Sanchez Ridge of Thorp Reed and Armstrong, Pittsburgh, argued that Detelich withdrew from the scheme by putting in place ethical business practices and policies that outlawed the bogus billing.

Employees testified Detelich never told them to stop the billing.

Ridge argued Monday that Detelich did not need to directly tell his employees to stop the billing, but he can — and did — take “positive steps” to communicate his withdrawal.

“There was some evidence of affirmative acts,” Judge Conti agreed, but added that Detelich needed to completely withdraw from the scheme.

“He didn’t resign from the chiropractor business,” she said. “He continued to participate as the overseer.”

The judge added that she is constrained in addressing a motion to acquit by looking at evidence in a favorable light to the prosecution, and not imposing her own thoughts on witness credibility and what weight to give evidence.

However, she is allowed to consider credibility in a motion for a new trial.

Judge Conti did not specifically say she did not believe the testimony of former clinic employee Danielle Fender, who pleaded guilty to health care fraud as part of the investigation into Detelich. But, the judge said she wanted to review the trial transcripts to look for corroboration of Ms. Fender’s testimony.

“This whole case turns on the credibility of Danielle Fender,” the judge said. “It’s clear to this court the jury believed the testimony of Danielle Fender that the scheme was ongoing.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun E. Sweeney suggested the judge review the testimony of John R. Derbonne, a chiropractor at the clinic. Judge Conti said she had not fully read his testimony.

Most witnesses said the scheme ended in 2000 when word spread that officials were investigating the clinic.

Evidence apparently showed the scheme continued into November 2000. Two checks sent from Highmark to Ms. Fender’s mother, Dorothey Fender, on Nov. 7, 2000, were cashed, and Dorothey Fender, a patient of the clinic, followed past practice of taking the money to Detelich’s office. Detelich benefited from the checks, Sweeney said.

A grand jury indicted Detelich on Nov. 5, 2005, a significant date because the charges have a five-year statute of limitations.

Judge Conti said she wants to try to determine whether Danielle Fender continued the scheme on her own and, if that is the case, whether that action kept the scheme ongoing within the context of the charges filed against Detelich.

“If Danielle is getting the money and pocketing it, that does not exonerate Dr. Detelich,” Sweeney said.

Ridge agreed to submit a written brief expanding his argument and referring to case law by July 23, and Sweeney has until Aug. 6 to respond.

“I think this is a very serious issue and I want to make sure I’m approaching it with the right frame of mind,” Judge Conti said.

Derbonne and Dorothey Fender also pleaded guilty to health care fraud.

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