Dr. Shiva Akula, whose Federal trial entailing 23 counts of alleged Medicare fraud commenced in the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans on Monday, October 30, 2023.
In today’s Sound Off Louisiana feature, founder Robert Burns and community activist Belinda Parker-Brown provide an overview of the fourth (4th) day of the criminal trial of Dr. Shiva Akula, who faces 23 counts of alleged Medicare fraud and is on trial in the Eastern District of Louisiana:
November 2, 2023: Burns and Parker-Brown provide overview of Day 4 of USA v. Shiva Akula.
Now, beginning at the 6:58 mark of the above video, Burns states that Akula had seen so much presented at the trial (we’re talking spreadsheet iteration after spreadsheet iteration and them being sorted six different ways from Sunday) that he felt like it’s very difficult to decipher what any provider can and cannot do.
Burns echoed his sentiments and, as we’ve stated in passing on another feature, Burns is an inactive CPA (thus loves spreadsheets) and did graduate LSU with a 4.000 GPA, and there is no way in hell that he could have been able to figure out what all these codes and spreadsheet sorting actually translate to. With that being the case, the jury is seriously expected to try and make heads or tails of all these codes and spreadsheet iterations?
In short, all of this health care governmental billing and subsequent analysis is so mind-blowingly complex that one would practically need a PhD in this subject matter (or else pay a massive salary to have someone on staff who knows how to decipher all these complexities) just to try and operate. It is absolutely unreal!
Nevertheless, Burns has previously reported (see Day 2 of the trial) how the prosecution presented doctor visits ad nauseam for which it alleges cannot be billed because of the fact that the patient is on hospice and that only a per diem rate is applicable.
Burns even went out of his way to confirm with three (3) other individuals attending the trial that those statements were made repeatedly in presenting the approximate 47 doctor visits on screen to which the jury was shown in excruciating detail about what date, which doctor (William Blalock), a reading of the patient’s general health status (with him being questioned as “stable” or “crisis”). Those three individuals confirmed that the prosecution was very emphatic that doctor visits could not be billed as separate charges and that they are factored into the per diem rate approved by Medicare for providing hospice care.
As Burns said on the video, his mother was on hospice from late May of 2019 through the day of her passing to go and be with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on July 9, 2021.
Burns knew for a fact that his mom, who was on hospice that entire time (and who resided in Ollie Steele Nursing Home across the street from Burns from June 6, 2019 through approximately June 30, 2021, at which time she had to be transported to Clarity Hospice for in-patient care as the end became imminent), certainly received Medicare statements which included Medicare-approved charges for, “routine nursing home visit.”
Burns keeps as few paper records as possible, preferring to scan such documents digitally and store them to the cloud. Well, there are certainly others, but here is a “routine doctor visit” to mom’s nursing home on November 4, 2020, which was approved and paid by Medicare, and here is another such statement containing an identical charge on March 24, 2021, which also was approved and paid by Medicare.
Now, maybe there’s some extenuating circumstance that somehow made Burns’ mom’s visits somehow differentiated from the patients Dr. Blalock was seeing but, even if so, it just further demonstrates that seemingly nobody can know just what the heck the rules are here!
Dr. Akula was point-blank asked on the witness stand if he had specific intent to defraud Medicare and inflate his own income, and he said, “Never.”
We’re going to be honest. We believe him!
He may have experienced periods of chaos from going from paper records to electronic records and, though he didn’t have a clue it was going on, he had a number of employees who simply harbored deep personal resentment toward him for what they perceived as too low pay (which the prosecution kept grilling him on during cross) and basically violated his trust in various ways.
Those facts, however, certainly do not prove in any way that Dr. Akula set out to commit fraud and, with the prosecution’s case now over, we are prepared to go on record as stating that we do not believe that he did so.
Despite its best efforts (and they did present a very excruciatingly-detailed case along with a considerable amount of innuendo), we believe the prosecution has failed to directly tie Akula to any purposeful intent to defraud the government. We would vote to acquit on all counts, and we predict that the jury will do the same after an estimated 4-5 hours of deliberation.
As indicated on the video above, the defense will call one expert witness on Monday, after which closing arguments will ensue.
Thereafter, Judge Africk will provide the jury with its instructions, and then the case will be submitted to the jury.
Despite our prediction of acquittal on all counts, we are nevertheless not hesitant to say that we believe that would have been the case even without Akula taking the stand.
Further, seeing Akula struggle mightily on the claims appeal denial documentation (looking over the document for an extensive period and being evasive on a response to the question of, “Is this not a denial with the explanation of ‘the services performed were not medically necessary?'”), we believe is an abject lesson demonstrating exactly why so many defense attorneys urge their clients not to take the witness stand!
For the lawyers who read this, Akula’s lawyer, David DeVillers, did Move for a Rule 29 Judgment of Acquittal in stating, “No reasonable juror could conclude that Dr. Akula committed fraud in this matter.”
Obviously, the prosecution argued that issuing such a judgment would not be appropriate, and Judge Africk immediately denied the Motion but indicated that DeVillers could re-urge it later in this trial if he was so inclined.
We will provide an overview of Monday’s hearing soon thereafter, and as indicated on the video, it is very likely to be the last overview unless the jury extends deliberations into Tuesday.
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