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Jury Finds Sharp Guilty Of Health Care Fraud

June 13, 2008
By BEN SIMMONS, Staff Writer
The Pocahontas County doctor accused of 29 counts of health care fraud could be facing a lifetime in federal prison after being found guilty of all charges by a jury in U.S. District Court in Elkins.

John C. Sharp, 67, of Marlinton, was convicted Thursday of obtaining approximately $570,434.46 by defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and West Virginia workers’ compensation. Sharp faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,00 on each count.

Sharp’s family and friends could be seen weeping as U.S. District Judge Keeley read the verdict. Many held each other for comfort and support.

During the proceeding, Keeley ordered a pre-sentence investigation and said she would schedule sentencing for a later date. She also granted the defense’s request for 30 days to file post trial motions, which could include an appeal. Sharp will remain free on bond.

Attorneys Joel Hirschhorn of Coral Gables, Fla., Dorwin Wolfe of Elkins, and Thomas Dawson of Leavenworth, Kan., provided the defense for Sharp. Hirschhorn and Wolfe spoke to The Inter-Mountain following the verdict.

“I think the jury was conscientious in its analysis of the case,” Hirschhorn said. “The government did an excellent job of putting the paper together, it’s a complex case. It’s a tough case because, unfortunately, doctors are not businessmen. Their minds do not think as analytically when it comes to business and the business side of their practices, as someone like John Sharp thinks when it comes to patient care and to the extent that he let his guard down and didn’t pay attention to the business side. Unfortunately the jury has found him guilty”

Following the verdict, Keeley granted the defense’s request to have 30 days to file post trial motions. Hirschhorn told The Inter-Mountain an appeal could be in the works.

“We’re going to do some post trial motions and I think at this point we are contemplating an appeal,” Hirschhorn said.

Jurors listened to 10 days of testimony before being given the case to deliberate shortly after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and finished for the day at 5:30 p.m. Jurors reconvened at 9 a.m. Thursday and reached the verdict around 11:30 a.m. During the trial, more than 30 witnesses were called to provide testimony and nearly 500 exhibits were entered as evidence.

Although the jury didn’t rule in Sharp’s favor, Hirschhorn said he thinks the jurors did an exceptional job of listening to the evidence and rendering their decision.

“I’ve tried cases all over the country and I think it was a really contentious jury,” he said. “That doesn’t necessary mean I agree with the conclusion they drew, but I think they felt comfortable with what they were doing and I believe they didn’t run through anything. They took their time and came up with whatever their decision was and for whatever reason they gave. I think this district is very lucky to have a judge like Judge Keeley. She’s a classic umpire.”

Wolfe said he was impressed by the generous showing of support Sharp received throughout the trial.

“John Sharp is a wonderful man to thousands of patients in three counties,” Wolfe said. “That’s something that came out in the trial as evidenced by the patients who showed their support.”

The case was investigated by agents of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the West Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Alan McGonigal and Randolph Bernard prosecuted the case. Neither was available for comment afterward.

In a prepared statement U.S. Attorney Sharon L Potter said, “This trial involved intentional fraud aimed at three taxpayer-funded entities (Medicaid, Medicare and West Virginia workers’ compensation). The evidence revealed that Dr. Sharp had been given notice on several occasions, through audit and other direct correspondence, that his billing practices were improper, yet he continued the fraudulent billings. The jurors were very attentive to all of the evidence, which included voluminous documentation and also expert testimony, as reflected by their verdicts.”

Article Photos

(CU and The Inter-Mountain/Anthony Gaynor)
VERDICT RETURNED — Dr. John C. Sharp was found guilty on 29 counts of health care fraud by a jury in U.S. District Court in Elkins. Sharp, left, speaks with one of his counsel, attorney Thomas Dawson of Leavenworth, Kan., outside the Jennings Randolph Federal Building after the verdict was rendered Thursday. Sharp will remain free on bond until sentencing.



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