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Hudson doctor gets probation

Dr. Jose Grau also must pay a $3,000 fine and repay the $46,500 he received in kickbacks from a laboratory.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001


Dr. Jose Grau also must pay a $3,000 fine and repay the $46,500 he received in kickbacks from a laboratory.

TAMPA -- A doctor from Hudson was sentenced in federal court Tuesday for accepting kickbacks from Clearwater Clinical Laboratories.

Dr. Jose Grau was sentenced to three years' probation and a $3,000 fine, a sentence similar to a number of others charged in the scheme. He must repay the $46,500 he received in kickbacks.

Grau, 49, had faced 10 counts of providing referrals to the lab in return for payment, a violation of federal law. He came forward when he learned he may have broken the law. He also contacted Medicare programs to alert them to what happened, his lawyer said.

Grau's cooperation with authorities helped earn him a reduced sentence. He had faced 12 to 18 months in prison, according to the initial sentencing guidelines. Grau apologized in court and said he didn't really know what he was doing when he took the kickbacks.

"He is very troubled by what happened," said Grau's attorney, Ralph Fernandez. "He felt an obligation to come forward when he found out what he was doing was wrong."

Fourteen doctors are accused of steering nearly $1.4-million in Medicare business to the lab in the mid 1990s in exchange for $400,000 in kickbacks. The now-defunct Clearwater laboratory has been characterized by the FBI as "the largest payer of illegal kickbacks in the Pinellas County area."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Montilla said the indictments don't mean that the defendants are bad doctors. Many of them have outstanding reputations, he said. But he emphasized that they broke the law by accepting money for Medicare referrals.

Montilla said Grau was particularly helpful. The two men shook hands after the sentencing.

The convicted doctors also face suspensions from serving patients who use federally funded medical assistance such as Medicare or Medicaid, a crippling blow to most medical practices. Grau hasn't lost any patients since his arrest, Fernandez said, and continues to provide care.

Fernandez said the medical industry does little to educate doctors about what they are allowed to accept from companies that provide medical services. He thought these cases would begin to get the word out.

"Many doctors don't know anything about these issues," Fernandez said. "They shouldn't wait for an indictment to make them educate themselves."

- Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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