Lawyers for a South Portland dermatologist convicted in November of tax evasion and other charges want a new trial, asserting that allegations that the doctor sexually abused a family member for years were improperly introduced and unfairly prejudiced the jury.

The doctor, Joel Sabean, was convicted of 58 counts of tax evasion, unlawfully distributing controlled substances and health care fraud. He will be sentenced in March, and faces up to 20 years in prison and $600,000 in fines.

The case hinged on the testimony of a family member, who said that Sabean sent her millions of dollars – and deducted the payments from his taxes as medical expenses – to keep the woman silent about the sexual abuse and to entice her to continue sending him sexually explicit emails and photos. Sabean wasn’t charged with sexual abuse.

Proscutors said Sabean transferred more than $2.3 million to the woman, who lives in Florida, and also wrote out dozens of prescriptions for her, even though she was not his patient. He was also convicted of writing some of the prescriptions in his wife’s name so his health insurance would cover part of the cost.

Defense lawyers argued that Sabean was duped by the woman, who had told him that she had a myriad of illnesses that required hospitalizations, organ transplants and other expensive procedures. Prosecutors said Sabean knew the woman wasn’t actually ill and she forged bills with his knowledge to allow Sabean to write off the expenses on his taxes and mislead other workers in his practice who were questioning the large payments he was making to the woman.

In the motion for a new trial, Sabean’s lawyers said they tried to block the woman’s testimony before the trial started, but U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal allowed it because he concluded that the woman’s testimony provided a motive for Sabean’s money transfers and showed they were not a mistake. However, Sabean’s lawyers said in their motion, the woman admitted that she lied to Sabean about her illnesses and failed, on several occasions, to say the payments were meant to buy her silence.

“Admitting these allegations as evidence of a non-existent motive based on a faulty premise was wrong and denied the defendant a fair trial,” the lawyers said in their motion.

“Allowing a known perjurer to make such ‘undeniably explosive’ allegations in open court based on nothing more than the government’s pre-trial say-so” led to the jury’s using an “improper emotional basis” to reach a verdict, the motion said.

Sabean, his lawyers said, was “branded an abuser for no other reason that to taint the jury’s view of his character.”

In the motion, the lawyers also said Singal was wrong to allow the government to try Sabean on both the tax evasion and unlawful distribution of controlled substances charges in the same trial because, they argued, the tax evasion did not grow out of the improper prescriptions. Singal had ruled that both violations came out of a “common scheme.” At the trial, the defense said in its motion, the two sets of charges were rarely, if ever, linked.

In the motion, the lawyers also explain why one juror was excused early in the trial. The juror “was dismissed for improvidently referring to the government’s case as ‘bullshit,’ ” the motion said.

Prosecutors have until Jan. 13 to file a response to the motion for a new trial.


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