Eye Doctor Faked Diagnoses and Treatments, Feds Say

May 14, 2014

Ophthalmologist David Ming Pon, MD, MPH, from Leesburg, Florida, used to have a very lucrative solo practice. In 2012, he took in $1.3 million just in Medicare reimbursement, according to physician payment data the government released last month.

A grand jury indictment filed in federal court on April 24 alleges how Dr. Pon made so much money. According to the indictment, Dr. Pon lied to patients that they had wet macular degeneration and that they would go blind unless they underwent laser photocoagulation. Then he pretended to treat the patients and submitted bogus claims to Medicare. His haul? More than $7 million since the mid-2000s.

The government now is trying to recover that money. Among other things, the grand jury indictment seeks the forfeiture of 4 homes, a Porsche convertible, and a Lexus SUV.

On May 5, Dr. Pon pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of Medicare fraud. His lawyers that day asked US Magistrate Judge Patricia Barksdale to release their client on bond, but Barksdale ruled that Dr. Pon should stay behind bars until trial because he posed a flight risk. She noted that he had millions of dollars of investments in China.

According to Florida state records, Dr. Pon graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine in 1983, the same year he earned a Masters of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. He completed a residency in ophthalmology at the Michael Reese Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, with fellowships at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, Massachusetts.

Experts Lined Up to Testify Against Eye Doctor

Dr. Pon's legal troubles began brewing at least as far back as 2011. The Medicare program suspended him in October 2011 "as a result of suspected overpayments and suspected or willful misrepresentation," according to records of the Agency for Health Care Administration of Florida. In 2013, the agency dropped Dr. Pon from Florida's Medicaid program as well.

In a March 5 detention hearing reported by the Florida Times-Union, Assistant US Attorney Mark Devereaux said that 30 ophthalmologists and optometrists, along with a government expert, were ready to testify that the Medicare patients in the federal fraud case never had wet macular degeneration, nor were they ever treated. The Florida Times-Union quoted a federal agent as saying that Dr. Pon indeed used a laser on patients but that he set it at such a low energy level that no leaking veins were ever sealed.

Dr. Pon's legal team is attempting to persuade US Magistrate Judge Patricia Barksdale to reconsider her decision not to release the physician on bond. In a court filing last week, one of Dr. Pon's attorneys said that his client knew he was under investigation since late 2011 and could be indicted, yet never seized opportunities that he had to flee the country. He traveled repeatedly to China, only to return to the United States. Furthermore, Dr. Pon voluntarily surrendered to authorities several weeks ago. That behavior, said attorney J. Richard Kiefer, shows that Dr. Pon is not a flight risk.

"Dr. Pon's surrender demonstrates his intention to fight the government's case and his belief in his defense," wrote Kiefer. "The court heard evidence that he has helped many, many patients improve their eyesight, including with laser surgery. That suggests he has a potential defense, that he must be doing something right."

Kiefer stated that the use of global positioning system monitoring would be sufficient to prevent Dr. Pon from fleeing the country. He also said that as a condition of pretrial release, Dr. Pon would put his China investments legally out of his reach while the case was pending.

In response, Assistant US Attorney Devereaux said in a legal filing that the court had already weighed these and other defense arguments at Dr. Pon's March 5 detention hearing and that the defense did not have the right to reassert them. The information in Kiefer's motion to reconsider detention, he wrote, "does not rebut" the court's ruling that Dr. Pon is a serious flight risk who warrants confinement.

Neither Devereaux nor Dr. Pon's attorneys responded to a request for an interview.

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