Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Monday gave closing arguments in the federal trial of Dr. Joel Sabean, with prosecutors casting the prominent South Portland dermatologist as a willing participant in a sexually fueled tax evasion scheme, while his attorneys described him as a doting family member with a history of mental illness that left him susceptible to a loved one’s elaborate deceptions.

At the crux of Sabean’s case is whether he knew that a family member to whom he sent more than $2 million over a five-year period was not ill when he deducted her medical expenses on his tax returns. Sabean was able to avoid paying nearly $900,000 in taxes.

Jurors must also weigh whether Sabean, of Falmouth, broke the law when he wrote prescriptions for the family member and if he wrote prescriptions in his wife’s name in order to deduct those costs from their medical insurance. The jury recessed Monday night and was to resume deliberations Tuesday morning.

In his closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney David B. Joyce urged jurors to assess the case in its entirety. He walked through emails Sabean sent to his bookkeepers alleging conversations with care providers and medical billing staff for treatments the family member did not actually receive, and reminded jurors of testimony given by the prosecution’s medical expert that it was unlikely that anyone would undergo the array of procedures Sabean described in such a short time frame. According to the expert, Joyce pointed out, some of the treatments Sabean described in those emails – including use of nanotech implants and lab grown organs – do not exist.

Joyce also reviewed sexually explicit emails Sabean exchanged with the family member, including photos of naked women and lengthy descriptions of Sabean’s sexual fantasies. Prosecutors in the case have argued that Sabean sent money to the woman in order to cover up and encourage a sexual relationship between them that she claims began when she was 12 or 13.

“This is not a man who’s being fleeced of his money,” Joyce said. “His actions are of his own free will.”


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

Defense attorney Thimi Mina worked to undermine the family member’s credibility, pointing out that within minutes of taking the stand, she had admitted to “having a problem with lying my whole life.” Mina argued that the woman, who was given immunity in exchange for her testimony against Sabean, had successfully duped Sabean’s bookkeepers, his accountant, a prosecution’s medical expert who testified that a note sent to Sabean did appear to come from an oncologist, and Cumberland County Court officials, who dropped charges against the woman in 2008 after receiving a letter from a hospital in Florida saying she was too ill to attend a trial in Maine.

“Her work is good enough to fool a lot of people,” Mina said. “The only one who’s not allowed to believe it is Dr. Sabean,”

Mina called the prosecution’s proposed motives in the case, “improbable and implausible,” saying Sabean had a long history of giving money away to family members, to the point that a trust was established in 1996 to prevent him from bankrupting his practice. Mina argued that prosecutors were using allegations of sexual abuse to distract jurors from the evidence.

“It comes with the most damaging label that you can give anybody,” Mina said, “It’s the elephant in this court room and it’s in this case to inflame you.”

Mina pointed to emails the woman sent to Sabean’s wife, Karen, asking her to assess photos she claimed to have taken of naked women. As for the character of “Nurse Mary,” with whom Sabean shared his sexual fantasies, Mina described it as “a classic case of catfishing,” arguing that Sabean was extremely isolated and depressed and latched on to a woman he believed to be real. Prosecutors have said that Sabean and his family member used the character to play out sexual fantasies.

In his response, Joyce pulled up an email from February 2010 in which Sabean’s family member apologized for lying to him about her illnesses. He showed the jury that Sabean’s payments initially stopped after the email, but continued again a few months later, following a series of sexual messages from the woman.

“By 2010 he certainly knows,” Joyce said. Sabean continued making payments – and taking deductions – for another two years.


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