Joel Sabean, a prominent South Portland dermatologist, was sentenced Wednesday to two years in federal prison for evading hundreds of thousands of dollars in income taxes and writing illegal prescriptions.

The sentence was significantly less than the five years that federal prosecutors asked for, but harsher than the 18 months of home confinement that Sabean’s lawyers sought. It was also less than the 41 to 51 months called for under advisory federal sentencing guidelines, which the judge skirted, apparently because of Sabean’s medical and mental health problems.

Sabean, 70, didn’t react visibly when the sentence was announced by U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal in Portland.

Wednesday’s hearing capped the case, which revolved around allegations that Sabean had sexually abused a family member for years, then sent her more than $2.3 million over the course of five years, sometimes in multiple payments of tens of thousands of dollars in a single day. Prosecutors said the money was to keep the woman quiet about the sex abuse allegations and also to entice her to continue sending Sabean sexually explicit emails and pictures.

Sabean has not been charged with sexual abuse and has denied the allegations. Wednesday, he shook his head as a prosecutor recounted those allegations to Singal, telling the judge that the reasons behind Sabean’s decision to send so much money to the woman called for a tough sentence.

“He was not motivated by greed,” said James W. Chapman, assistant U.S. Attorney. “He was motivated by something far worse – by his own sexual obsession.”

Sabean was convicted in November on five counts of tax evasion for writing off most of the money he sent the woman as medical expenses, allowing him to evade $900,000 in federal taxes from 2008 to 2012. He also was found guilty of 52 counts of writing illegal prescriptions for the woman, who was not his patient, and one count of health care fraud for making out some of the prescriptions in his wife’s name so the cost would be covered by her health insurance. Sabean was ordered to pay the insurance company $5,300 in restitution on that last charge.

Singal also ordered Sabean to recalculate and refile his taxes for the five years covered in the conviction, and pay any back taxes and fines he may owe.

Chapman said Sabean has shown no remorse for his crimes, and that the amount of money involved in the tax evasion might be the biggest in a Maine case.

“It’s a serious offense with serious consequences,” he said.

Sabean told the judge that his mental state for years has been affected by depression and delusional behavior, but also said he has never intentionally hurt anyone in his life.

He said he has cared for family members since he was an adolescent and was “physically and emotionally exhausted” by the stress of taking care of his wife, who is bedridden, two “highly dysfunctional” and unemployable adult children and his 91-year-old mother.

Sabean said that he now faces “a life in ruins,” from surrendering his medical license and closing his practice to “crushing debt” and public humiliation from the sex abuse allegations.

He told Singal those are “the most horrible and false allegations” imaginable.

Sabean said that his life had always been dominated by his desire to treat patients in his practice. He agreed to wind down his medical practice after his conviction, and Sabean said he was permanently surrendering his medical license after Wednesday’s sentencing.

Three of his patients and a former employee spoke on Sabean’s behalf before Singal announced the sentence, and they praised his dedication and caring.

Michelle Correia, who worked for Sabean for 11 years, said he was a considerate boss who was “like a father figure” to her.

Correia said Sabean correctly diagnosed asthma in her son, even though it’s outside his specialty, and patients said he had an intuitive sense of what illnesses they had and how to treat them.

“He is a man with so much compassion, honesty and integrity,” said Lisa Maloney, who said she has known Sabean for more than 40 years. “He is like no other.”

Singal said it was clear that Sabean was a dedicated and talented doctor.

“So the question is, what happened here?” the judge asked, then described an inappropriate “overtly sexual relationship” with the family member.

Singal said emails between the woman and Sabean showed the doctor and the family member talked about the medical issues the woman would claim to be suffering from. Prosecutors said the woman then concocted phony medical bills for Sabean to give to his accountants, who had begun to question the large sums of money that he was sending to the woman in Florida.

Although the medical claims were “outlandish,” Singal said, including bills for multiple organ transplants over the course of a few months, the accountants relied on Sabean, accepted them and wrote off the payments as medical expenses on Sabean’s taxes.

Sabean wanted the tax write-off, Singal said, because it allowed him to send more money to the woman.

“Other taxpayers were financing the distribution of cash to Florida,” the judge said.

Sabean’s lawyers said Wednesday that their client is now financially wiped out.

They said they will appeal the verdict and also ask Singal to allow Sabean to remain free on bail while the appeal is considered. Singal’s sentence calls for Sabean to report to a federal prison in mid-August, after he completes radiation treatment for prostate cancer that was diagnosed after his conviction last fall. Singal said he will include medical records in the information he sends to the federal prison bureau so Sabean is sent to a prison with medical facilities where he can be treated for the cancer.

Thimi Mina, Sabean’s lead lawyer, said he was “relieved” that the sentence was significantly less than prosecutors had sought, but that he has not decided whether to appeal that as well.

Mina said a key basis for the appeal would be Singal’s ruling barring evidence that the woman Sabean is accused of abusing lied to a Florida judge just a few weeks before she testified against Sabean. Mina said defense lawyers wanted to introduce a tape of the woman falsely telling the judge that her son was paralyzed and needed her to care for him.

That was all part of her effort to avoid being jailed for violating probation on a shoplifting charge, Mina said, and would have been used to impeach her veracity.

That might have convinced jurors that the woman wasn’t believable in testimony against Sabean, he said, but Singal wouldn’t let the lawyers introduce it.

Mina also said Singal should not have allowed prosecutors to introduce the testimony about the alleged sexual abuse, suggesting it would prejudice the jury against his client. Prosecutors said jurors needed to hear that testimony because it provided a motive for Sabean’s acts.

Chapman said he was “satisfied” by the sentence.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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