Saturday, June 2, 2007

Doctor's life unfolds as an alleged fraud

Richard Brown practiced illegally, grand jury says.
By Kathleen Brady Shea
Inquirer Staff Writer
On a leafy, well-traveled Tredyffrin Township thoroughfare, a sign in front of Richard A. Brown's split-level home identifies him as a practitioner of general medicine.

And practice he did for 22 years, but only with a fraudulently obtained license, prosecutors say.

In a blistering, newly released 17-page report, a Chester County grand jury declares him to be a fraud who never had a legitimate medical license, but nevertheless worked in area hospitals and illegally prescribed painkillers and other drugs.

He forged the paperwork that persuaded state officials to grant him his license, the report says. Even after he pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2003, his fraudulent credentials went undiscovered.

The grand-jury findings were filed Thursday in Devon District Court along with a criminal complaint charging Brown, 63, with 826 offenses, including illegal sale of prescription drugs, tampering with public records, criminal conspiracyand tax evasion.

Brown's wife, Janice Kressen Brown, 49, was also charged. She faces 11 offenses related to the alleged state income-tax fraud.

Joseph R. Podraza Jr., one of Brown's three defense attorneys, said the Browns would turn themselves in for arraignment on Monday.

"The Browns will aggressively defend against these charges," said Podraza, who said he had not had an opportunity to see the report until The Inquirer provided him with a copy.

For the last several years, the Browns have been battling a state attempt to seize the couple's $400,000 home and $700,000 in savings under drug forfeiture laws. Brown's allegedly fraudulent medical license was suspended in July 2004, court records said. He has been on five years' probation for the 2003 charge.

According to the new criminal complaint, investigators from the state Attorney General's Office and the Chester County District Attorney's Office began the second probe of Brown in July 2005 after receiving information that he had allegedly resumed his illicit activities.

The report describes convoluted medical education, rife with forgery.

The report accuses Brown, whose late father, Nathan, was a longtime family doctor in Phoenixville, of falsifying documents from two of the three foreign medical schools he attended in the 1970s: Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara in Mexico, and the American University of the Caribbean on Montserrat.

Brown's goal was "to deceive the schools and the Pennsylvania Department of State into believing that he had completed the required course work necessary to obtain both a medical degree and a license to practice medicine and surgery," the report said.

Brown attended the Mexican school in 1971 and 1972, passing six of the nine courses, but prepared a transcript that had him completing 15 courses.

He received a medical degree from the Montserrat school in the early 1980s. To get the degree, he submitted forged evaluations claiming he performed clinical work at Bryn Mawr Hospital and Phoenixville Hospital. Hospital officials say that work never occurred, the report said.

Once back in the United States, Brown passed - on his fourth attempt - a state examination required for foreign medical graduates.

Before the grand jury, Tammy Radel from the Pennsylvania Department of State testified that she compared Brown's fraudulent foreign transcripts with the genuine records.

She said Brown "would not have been issued a medical license" if the department had known the transcripts it had on file were faked, the report said.

According to testimony from Tredyffrin Township Detective Sgt. John Bailey, Brown's resumé also contained inaccuracies.

Brown said he worked at Chestnut Hill Hospital for one year in 1991. The hospital's file indicates Brown was "extremely inadequate and dangerously incompetent" and was terminated after three months, the report said.

Brown's resumé also lists a one-year stint at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, where hospital officials said he was fired after five months, the report said.

Brown saw a variety of patients over the years. One, whom Brown treated for 10 years, was prescribed Adipex, a stimulant, once a day, the report said. Roger Farber, a board-certified neurologist and pain specialist from Bala Cynwyd, said Adipex is "not safe for long-term use," calling Brown "utterly irresponsible" for prescribing it, the report said.

After his arrest in December 2001, until his medical license was suspended, Brown continuing to sell prescriptions for controlled substances to six "drug-dependent" patients without office visits, the report said. One of his patients had to be weaned off Valium at Norristown State Hospital, the report said.

In addition, Brown and his wife "conspired to underreport their income, overstate deductions and benefit from a poverty credit which they were not entitled to claim" for tax years 2002 through 2005.

Louis Cabrelli, a state tax agent, testified that the tax improprieties included the Browns' contention that 100 percent of their residence was "used for Dr. Brown's business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

Cabrelli also cited Brown's illegal deduction of $27,321 in legal fees incurred after his arrest and the fact that the Browns had not filed a 2006 return or a request for an extension, the report said.

Podraza said he wondered whether the commonwealth was suddenly seeking more charges to bolster its effort to link Brown's assets to illegal activities, a prerequisite for seizure under drug forfeiture law.

"It is quite suspicious that the commonwealth is pursuing these charges when it is aggressively trying to pursue the forfeiture," said Podraza. "There certainly is another side to this story."

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