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Doctor gets 15 months in Medicare fraud case

A New Port Richey physician will go to prison for taking kickbacks in exchange for referring Medicare patients to a lab.

By MARY CARMICHAEL

Revised August 2, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000


Ira Harvey Liss, a New Port Richey family physician who took $27,000 in kickbacks from Clearwater Clinical Laboratory in exchange for referring Medicare patients to the lab, was sentenced on Friday to 15 months in prison and two years of supervised release.

He was also ordered to pay $29,000 restitution to Medicare and a $5,000 fine.

A Tampa jury convicted Liss of Medicare fraud on April 21. He faced as much as 30 years in prison and a $1.5-million fine.

Liss, 54, was one of seven medical professionals in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties indicted after federal agents raided the Clearwater lab and seized financial documents in June 1998. The clinic, no longer in operation, was described by an FBI agent after the raid as "the largest payor of illegal kickbacks from health care providers" in Pinellas County.

Liss' referrals resulted in approximately $184,000 in Medicare payments to the lab.

Liss' former attorney, J. Larry Hart of Pasco County, told the Times in April, shortly before he stopped representing Liss, that his client had not meant to break the law. "The doctor had no intention of violating any law, and we simply ask that people reserve judgment until we ferret through the allegations to separate truth from fiction," he said.

Hart was on vacation and could not be reached for comment late Friday. A receptionist at Liss' office at 7407 State Road 52 in Hudson was unaware that Liss had been sentenced.

The jury in Liss' case also found Dr. Michael Spuza of St. Petersburg guilty of receiving $12,000 in kickbacks.

The former owner-operators of Clearwater Clinical Laboratory and Community Clinical Laboratory -- James Lee McKeown Sr. of Clearwater and James Lee McKeown Jr. of Seminole, and laboratory manager Vincent Gepp of Palm Harbor -- pleaded guilty to Medicare fraud in April. It could not immediately be determined if they have been sentenced.

Several more physicians accused of receiving kickbacks from the lab are still awaiting trial or sentencing.

The doctors were caught by the FBI's 4-year-old Operation Takeback task force, which "targets health care providers that pay illegal rebates, bribes and kickbacks in return for referral of patients," according to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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