Doctor to serve 22 years for fraud

Michael Rosin was convicted in March of telling patients they had cancer and performing unneeded operations.

Published October 5, 2006

TAMPA - Seven months after he was found guilty of falsely diagnosing dozens of people with cancer and subjecting them to unnecessary surgery, Michael Rosin apologized to the patients who put their trust in him.

"I'm terribly, terribly sorry," Rosin said during his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. "I hope before they make a final decision about me they will be patient, they will be forgiving and they will not be overly strict or harsh as they form their opinion."

But Rosin's tearful apology didn't sway the victims who attended his final hearing or U.S. District Judge William Castagna, who sentenced the disgraced Sarasota dermatologist to 22 years in prison.

Rosin, 56, must also make restitution to Medicare and his patients in the amount of $3.7-million and pay a $25,000 fine, Castagna ruled.

It was the final chapter in a long and strange case that began after several of Rosin's patients became suspicious when he repeatedly diagnosed them with skin cancer and performed a surgery known as Mohs, a procedure that requires removal of several layers of tissue. The more layers of tissues he removed, the more money he got in Medicare reimbursements.

Even Rosin's staff began to wonder after 100 percent of the biopsies the doctor reviewed were diagnosed as cancerous.

An FBI investigation later showed Rosin once based a diagnosis on a slide sample that was chewing gum and not human tissue. In another case, he looked at a slide showing a sliver of plastic foam and determined the patient had very aggressive cancer that required immediate surgery.

Prosecutor Katherine Ho called the judge's sentence fair and appropriate. She said Rosin's crime was especially horrific because he violated the trust between a doctor and his patients.

"Fortunately, it's not often that we encounter doctors that use their medical license and training to harm people," Ho said.

Ellen Murray, one of Rosin's former patients, said she was relieved to see Rosin finally punished. Rosin's sentencing hearing began in June and was continued three times as prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over key points, including the number of victims and the amount of restitution Rosin owed.

Rosin, who was free on bail after his conviction, was ordered to jail in July.

"Everyone's got to pay the piper sooner or later," said Murray, who was referred to Rosin in 1996 after another doctor diagnosed her with squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer.

In July 2003, Rosin told her she had cancer on her back. But when Murray went to a Tampa doctor for a second opinion, no cancer was found.

"I'm sure it will go on, appeal after appeal," Murray said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's still not accepting responsibility for what he did."

Indeed, during his rambling speech to the court, Rosin stopped short of admitting he deliberately misdiagnosed patients, subtly suggesting it was the other people in his office who were responsible.

He compared himself to the captain of a ship who is blamed for the conduct of his crew.

"It's all on me, and I accept responsibility for that," Rosin said.

Other members of his family, who were allowed to speak before Castagna announced his sentence, also insisted on Rosin's innocence.

His older brother, Alexander Rosin, described their difficult childhood growing up without a father, who was killed by a drunken driver when Michael Rosin was only 2 years old.

As the only Jewish family with children in Arcadia, they suffered threats and discrimination, Alexander Rosin added.

"Knowing Michael in my mind, there is no way he could have set up a scheme as I have seen presented here," he said.

Michael Rosin's wife of 22 years, Amalia, who has Alzheimer's disease, also maintained her husband had done no wrong. Her voice broke as she wondered aloud how she would raise their seven children alone.

"Just think of me and think of my children," she asked the judge.

Rosin's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, insisted his client had some form of mental illness. As proof, he cited Rosin's peculiar spending habits: Convicted of stealing millions from Medicaid, the family lived in modest homes in Sarasota and Miami and maintained a lifestyle that was "beyond spartan," Hirschhorn said.

He compulsively saved the money he made, the attorney said, so Rosin should be able to make full restitution to the victims.

Rosin was also a devoted family man and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity.

"Something caused him to lose his moral compass," Hirschhorn said.

Hirschhorn earlier argued his client suffered head trauma from two accidents - one while he was in college and the other in 2001 - that made him mentally unfit to continue with his sentencing. Castagna rejected his theory.

Ho, the prosecutor, said a suspect doesn't have to buy fancy cars or lavish vacations to be found guilty of stealing. She said Rosin's crimes were even worse because he scarred, and in some cases disfigured, his victims to get money.

"He took an oath when he started practicing medicine to first do no harm," Ho said. "He violated that oath, and he violated the trust of his patients."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at cweimar@sptimes.com or 813 226-3416.