Thank you to the Post Standard for publishing Mohamed Khater’s letter.

It took a month of lobbying but the Post Standard finally published Mohamed Khater’s letter.  It was followed by this editor’s note:

“Our Sept. 19 story did state that Dhafir was prosecuted for planning to use contributions to support a terrorist organization. And you are right–Dhafir was never charged or tried on any terrorism charge.
“Government prosecutors did bring up terrorism allegations before the judge in the sentencing stage in hopes of achieving a longer prison sentence. The Post-Standard editorialized on that tactic, calling it unfair.
“Our Sept. 19 story did not fully explain that all, and thus was misleading. When the error was brought to our attention we ran a correction on Oct. 11. On the same day we published a letter on the topic from the Dr. Dhafir Support Committee.
“Some of the other assertions in your letter are far less convincing, however. Our staff writers reported accurately that the jury convicted Dhafir of multiple fraud counts based on government evidence that he used money intended for his charity for business investments in Syracuse and the Middle East. To convict Dhafir, the jury was required to find that he intentionally defrauded donors.
“He was also convicted of intentionally evading taxes, intentionally defrauding Medicare, and making false statements to Medicare when asked about it. The judge, in calculating restitution, concluded that Dhafir defrauded donors of more than $500,000, defrauded Medicare of $316,000 and evaded $400,000 in taxes.”


Katherine: As someone who sat through almost all of the 14 weeks of proceedings, below are my thoughts on the Editor’s Note:

* Defrauding donors of $500,000.

Dr. Dhafir had money in the Middle East and, on occasion, instead of sending dollars to the Middle East, he exchanged his money in the Middle East for money collected here in this country. Although this kind system of “mixing money” is anathema to western culture, it is a common way of doing business in Arab and Muslim cultures (this system of exchange is known as Hawala). It was clear from the trial that Dr. Dhafir had employed this system of “money exchange” on occasion, but the government gave no evidence to support the view that Dr. Dhafir had stolen the money.

See: Case Not Proven, which addresses the charges other than Medicare charges.

* Defrauded Medicare of $316,000

The whole Medicare case (25 counts) was based on a single rule called “incident to” (incident to the Dr.’s treatment). The government does not dispute that patients did indeed receive medical care and chemotherapy medicine. It is saying that because Dhafir’s office filled the forms in wrongly, the office is entitled to no reimbursement. Medicare fraud usually consists of fictitious patients and imaginary illnesses, Dhafir’s case had none of this.

On the day Mrs. Dhafir was sentenced the head prosecutor, Michael Olmsted, was asked how much of the $62,000 that Mrs. Dhafir was to pay back to Medicare was spent on Medicine, he was unable to say.

Dr. Dhafir was asked the same question and said that 90% of it was spent on medicine, and that in 2002 Medicare reimbursed his office less than it had spent on medicine alone. A look at the records would confirm or refute this, but Dr. Dhafir has been continually denied access to his own records that were taken from his house and office on the day of his arrest.

For coverage of the Medicare part of the case see: Dr. Dhafir’s Trial Concluded Today.

And: Dr. Dhafir letter to Medicare.

* $400,000 in taxes

Dr. Dhafir’s charity, Help the Needy, was using the tax exemption number of another charity. This is not uncommon practice among charities and many charities do this without penalty. According to Barrie Gewanter of the NYCLU, ordinarily this kind of think is addressed by the State telling the charity that they are doing wrong, shutting it down until it’s sorted out, and then letting them operate again. (See “Access” with George Kilpatrick: A panel discussion about the case of Rafil Dhafir in the wider context of civil liberties. WCNY Public Television, Wednesday, October 26th, 11pm.)

The $400,000 in taxes are because Dhafir himself donated very generously over the years. (According to the government, he donated $1.4 million over the years.) The government is also currently going after the taxes it says should have been paid by other people who donated to Help the Needy. It is holding the Dhafir’s responsible for that loss of tax revenue and has, consequently, has put a lien against the Dhafir family home.


Some things to think about:

Seven government agencies investigated Dhafir for five years, how much did this cost the taxpayer? Why was the defense not allowed to address at trial the fact that the government only brought these charges after finding no link to terrorism? (This turned into a brick wall that the defense kept hitting, prosecutors could hint at more serious charges, but the defense was never allowed to follow this line of questioning.)

If the government was indeed interested in restitution, why didn’t it let Dhafir work for the 33 months that he was held without bail before sentencing? He could easily have paid off all the money in this way. He was a wealthy man while working, earning around $500.000 a year, with very little outgoing expenses: he lived in the same house for many years and his mortgage was paid off long ago, and drove a 1992 Nissan Sentra unitl 2002.

Medicare people who testified were confused about the “incident to” rule. Government Agent Cynthia Pangallo who had testified for the government in 10 cases involving Medicare did not know when the “incident to” rule went into effect. This is despite the fact that the prosecution contacted her during the proceedings to prepare testimony and that she had three weeks during the Christmas break to prepare her testimony before appearing on the witness stand.

Mrs. Dhafir testified that under “electronic filing” Medicare did not accept anyone else’s number other than Dr. Dhafir’s. (Much of the case revolved around whether Dhafir’s office should be reimbursed at 85%, as it would if a nurse practitioner was administering care, or at 100%, if the doctor himself was administering care.)