Ex-doctors plead not guilty, are free on bond
With family members and his attorney close by, Eric Peper didn’t respond to the jab as they walked Tuesday along Rood Avenue after his first court appearance.
“Hey doc, I need some Percocet,” a man yelled, sitting outside the Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building.
Speaking through an attorney, Peper earlier told a judge he wasn’t a criminal.
Flanked by their Denver attorneys, Peper, 53, of Summerland Key, Fla., and Sam Jahani, of Beaumont, Texas, said they committed none of the crimes lodged by a federal grand jury in a 70-count indictment. Both former doctors pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Jahani and Peper, who arrived and departed the Aspinall building in separate vehicles, did not speak with one another before, during or after the hearing and were briefly detained by U.S. marshals to be fingerprinted and photographed before leaving the short hearing. Both men are free on bond, and return court dates in Grand Junction haven’t been scheduled.
Tony Leffert, Peper’s attorney, proclaimed his client’s innocence for the television cameras.
“People don’t commit serious crimes without a reason,” said Leffert, a former federal prosecutor turned defense attorney. “Dr. Peper was an hourly wage employee and had no reason to overprescribe his patients.”
Leffert said his client was a “caring and compassionate” doctor for his former patients at Urgent Care clinics in Grand Junction, Delta and Montrose. The law firm Peters, Mair and Wilcox, which represents Jahani, said in a statement posted to the firm’s website that the doctor looks forward to clearing his name.
An indictment alleges that Jahani and Peper, during a four-year period, overprescribed painkillers to patients and had them fill prescriptions at pharmacies, which led those pharmacies to file claims and obtain reimbursement from health-care benefit programs. The doctors allegedly falsified medical records so they could be paid more from health-care programs for work they didn’t perform.
Federal authorities said prescriptions for at least four patients were written at such a high dose they were a contributing factor in those patients’ deaths.
Jahani and Peper are charged with health care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and illegal dispensing of controlled substances resulting in death.
“I think it’s a lot of hooey,” said Kathy Plimpton-Fair, of Grand Junction, adding she was treated by Peper for about a year and a half before the closure of the local Urgent Care clinic in 2009. Peper correctly diagnosed a degenerative condition in her back and recommended she reduce her regular intake of Oxycontin, Plimpton-Fair said.
“He cut me back immediately because he said I was too little for the dose,” she said, adding the decision likely saved her life.
Among six people who attended Tuesday’s hearing, Plimpton-Fair said she hopes she will be called as a witness in Peper’s defense.
Another local resident, who had a relative who died while in the care of the doctors, walked out of Tuesday’s hearing after Jahani and Peper gave their not-guilty pleas.