In a starkly worded opinion, a federal appeals court Friday rejected the appeal of a once-prominent South Portland dermatologist on charges of tax evasion, writing illegal prescriptions and health care fraud.

Joel Sabean was convicted in November 2016 in U.S. District Court in Portland after a lurid trial that included accusations of years of sexual abuse of a family member. Prosecutors said that Sabean sent the woman more than $2.3 million over five years, in part to keep her quiet about the sexual abuse and to ensure that the woman would continue sending Sabean explicit emails and pictures.

“This case, which reads like an anthology of pain, pathos, and personal degradation, paints a grim picture of the human condition,” Justice Bruce Selya of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the 3-0 decision. But he went on to say the conviction was upheld because the record of the trial was “conspicuously free from prejudicial error.”

Sabean was sentenced to two years in prison, which was below federal sentencing guidelines. The judge indicated that he took into account physical and mental health problems of Sabean, 71, and the fact that his wife has been bed-ridden for years.

Sabean and the family member claimed that the millions he sent the woman were for medical expenses, which Sabean deducted from his taxes. He is also accused of writing dozens of prescriptions for the woman, who was not his patient, and health care fraud for making out some of the prescriptions in Sabean’s wife’s name, even though they were dispensed to the woman in Florida, with insurance picking up part of the cost.

The woman and Sabean claimed that he sent her the money to pay for her treatment for cancer, amputated limbs, “temporary brain death” and other ailments, but the woman actually spent the money on drugs and gambling.


Sabean’s lawyers appealed his conviction, saying the introduction of the sexual abuse allegations prejudiced the jury and should not have been allowed in a case that was primarily financial at its core. They also said an audiotape of the woman’s testimony in an unrelated Florida case should not have been excluded because it showed her penchant for lying. But the appeals court rejected those arguments and others.

“The grim picture, fully developed, reveals that the defendant was fairly tried and lawfully convicted,” Selya’s opinion concluded.

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

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