Defense attorneys in the federal trial of Dr. Joel Sabean painted a dire picture Monday of the prominent South Portland dermatologist’s finances as he sent millions of dollars to a family member even though the payments exceeded his annual earnings.

As Sabean’s trial continued in U.S. District Court in Portland, the defense and prosecution questioned his longtime accountant and bookkeeper, who said they warned the doctor that if he continued sending money to the family member, he would bankrupt his medical practice.

“There was going to be nothing left,” Joel H. Bassett, Sabean’s accountant, told prosecutors.

Bassett and Patricia A. Kuhl, Sabean’s bookkeeper, said they determined that Sabean should try to write off the payments he was sending to the woman, ostensibly to cover a vast array of medical treatments starting with a broken foot and graduating to antibiotic-resistant infections and organ transplants.

Sabean is charged with tax fraud for writing off more than $2 million in payments he made to the woman, avoiding nearly $900,000 in taxes. Prosecutors allege Sabean sent the woman money to cover up a sexual relationship she says began when she was a teenager. He is also charged with illegally distributing controlled substances by prescribing medications to the woman, who was not his patient, and with health care fraud, for allegedly writing some of those prescriptions in his wife’s name so they could be paid by his insurance.

Defense attorneys argue that the woman “engaged in an elaborate scheme” to deceive Sabean into spending himself nearly into bankruptcy, including fabricating hospital invoices using logos and letterheads she found on the internet.


Sabean has not been charged with sexual abuse. The Portland Press Herald does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse without their consent.

Kuhl said she first started working for Sabean in 1996, as part of a financial group that created a trust to take control of the doctor’s assets. Citing “great concern” over Sabean’s ability to control his finances, Kuhl said the trust oversaw his business and put “strict financial controls” in place, including limiting payments to Sabean and his family.

Sabean did not resist the arrangement, Kuhl said, but family members protested vigorously. Kuhl recounted an incident in which the woman who has accused Sabean of sexual abuse visited Kuhl’s Portland offices with a boyfriend to lodge their complaints. At one point the woman’s boyfriend “lunged over my desk at me,” Kuhl said.

Kuhl described Sabean’s spending in recent years as “extremely frugal,” saying he radically cut back on personal expenses as he ramped up spending on his family member, shopping at thrift and budget clothing stores and driving old cars. She said she warned Sabean that he was likely to be audited, given the size of the medical deductions he was taking.

In one of the most striking pieces of evidence, defense attorneys showed jurors an email in which Ray Kuhl, Patricia’s husband and business partner, asked if Sabean could spread out the payments he was making to the woman. Sabean responded to Ray Kuhl, asking him to reach out to the woman directly to see what could be arranged.

“She will have an easier time reaching people or soliciting help from whomever is available,” Sabean wrote.


Assistant U.S. Attorney James W. Chapman confronted Patricia Kuhl, pointing out potential discrepancies between her testimony Monday and testimony she previously gave to the federal grand jury that indicted Sabean. Chapman asked Kuhl if she disliked the woman who has accused Sabean – she said she does – and noted that Sabean is paying for Kuhl’s legal representation in connection with the trial. Asked if she was loyal to Sabean, Kuhl answered, “Probably.”

In addition to Sabean’s financial advisers, prosecutors called Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Margo Fitzgerald, who headed up the agency’s investigation into Sabean until late 2014. Fitzgerald described her first conversation with Sabean in January 2014, in which he began hedging descriptions of his family member’s medical treatments, saying she “supposedly” had her foot run over, suffered from cancer and underwent a kidney transplant.

Fitzgerald said she had also questioned Sabean’s assertion that his family member’s medical providers only accepted cash, and that the woman withdrew money from casino ATMs because they were the only available option in the middle of the night in Florida.

Prosecutors will continue with Fitzgerald’s testimony Tuesday, when they said they also expect to rest their case.


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