A jury convicted a prominent South Portland dermatologist Friday, ending nearly five days of deliberations by finding him guilty of federal charges of tax evasion, unlawfully distributing a controlled substance and healthcare fraud.

Dr. Joel Sabean had been on trial in U.S. District Court in Portland since Nov. 1. The jury of 10 women and two men was handed the case Monday and had deliberated for more than 34 hours through Thursday without reaching a verdict. Federal Judge George Z. Singal sent jurors home shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday and told them to return at 8 a.m. Friday.

When they returned, the jury found Sabean guilty on all 58 counts. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 21. He faces as much as 20 years in prison and $600,000 in fines.

Seated between his attorneys, Sabean showed little emotion as a clerk read through each of the jury’s findings. The verdict wrapped up a two-week trial marked by sharply conflicting pictures of the well-regarded dermatologist, a Falmouth resident who has practiced in South Portland for nearly 40 years.

Sabean was accused of sending more than $2.3 million to a family member in Florida and then writing off the payments as medical expenses on his taxes, cutting $900,000 from his tax bills. He also was accused of making out dozens of prescriptions for the woman, who was not his patient, in violation of federal drug laws and healthcare fraud, and for writing some of those prescriptions in his wife’s name so their insurance would cover part of the cost.

Central to the case was the question of whether Sabean knew his family member was not ill when he sent her money and deducted it from his taxes over a five-year period.


Prosecutors said Sabean sent the money in an attempt to cover up and encourage a sexual relationship with the woman that she testified began when she was “12 or 13.” During the trial, the government’s attorneys pointed to sexually explicit emails Sabean exchanged with the woman and the fact that he had never gone to see her, despite telling bookkeepers she was gravely ill.

Defense attorneys accused the family member of perpetuating “an elaborate scheme” to defraud Sabean of millions of dollars. Defense attorney Thimi Mina questioned the woman’s credibility, noting her history of deception. The woman, who testified in an orange jumpsuit, has been in jail in Florida since spring for falsifying community service records following a shoplifting charge. Within minutes of taking the stand she admitted to having “a problem with lying my whole life.”

Sabean’s attorneys argued that he suffered from mental illness that made him susceptible to his loved one’s fraud. “He gave away everything he had,” Mina told the jury.

Sabean was not charged with sexual abuse. The Portland Press Herald does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent.

After hearing the verdict, Judge Singal praised jurors for their work, saying they were the most diligent, attentive and hardworking jury he had seen in his time on the bench.

“It isn’t as easy as it looks on television,” Singal said. “In real life it’s a lot of sweat. It’s a lot of anguish.”


Singal said the workings of this jury should reassure those watching that even in a time of turmoil, “the country is working.”

Sabean’s defense attorneys said in a statement that Sabean was “deeply disappointed” with the jury’s decision.

“I would strongly suspect there would be an appeal,” defense attorney Jay McCloskey said. “There was a lot of evidence that wasn’t ultimately admitted, so that will be an issue on appeal.”

Outside the courthouse, a juror who asked not to be identified said the outcome was not always certain as the jury found itself at one point “hopelessly split.” They alerted Singal, who sent them back to try again to reach a verdict. At that point, the juror said, they “did the only thing we could think to do.” They laid out all of the evidence chronologically and reviewed it day by day to determine who knew what and when. Asked why the jury took five days to come to its conclusion, the juror said, “It took that much going through five years. We went through all of those emails.”

Jurors also mulled over Sabean’s mental state and whether he could have plausibly believed that his family member suffered from the illnesses he described to his bookkeepers – from kidney stones and transplants to bone infections and heart surgery. After reviewing expert testimony, they determined that Sabean was “neurotic, not psychotic,” the juror said.

“We had to judge for ourselves how neurotic,” she said. When they went through the evidence, the juror said, they concluded that at least some of the actions documented were “something that a person would have to be psychotic to believe.”


Sabean continued to work during the trial, leaving the courthouse in the afternoon and heading to South Portland to see patients. McCloskey said Sabean would continue to practice “as long as he can.”

In addition to his conviction, Sabean may now face challenges to his medical license in Maine. Dennis Smith, executive director of the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine, said that board staff knew of Sabean’s case.

“The board staff is aware of the conviction and will be working with our legal counsel at the Attorney General’s Office,” Smith said.

Under Maine state law, the board may consider criminal history in deciding whether to take disciplinary action against a physician. However, a conviction would not automatically bar Sabean from practicing.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.