An orthopedic surgeon who admitted to botching and faking thousands of surgeries over a five-year period was sentenced today to four-and-a-half years in federal prison for one count of health care fraud.
Dr. Spyros Panos, who practiced medicine in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., pleaded guilty to one count of health care fraud last October. In addition to his sentence, he was fined $250,000 and ordered to pay the government $5 million as restitution for false and overstated Medicare charges. He was also ordered to surrender all licenses to practice medicine in states where it had not already been suspended.
The federal court in White Plains, N.Y., was packed with both supporters and alleged victims of Panos.
Pam Bisaccia said Panos performed several surgeries on her both of her Achilles tendons that have left her unable to walk. She read a victim's impact statement to the court before Panos was sentenced. In the statement she said that the surgeries have ruined her life.
"Shaving my legs feels like ripping off skin," she said. "Each step feels like walking on hot coals."
She said her grandchildren can no longer sit on her lap because it causes too much pain.
According to an explanation submitted to the court by the government, Panos was charged with health care fraud because he knowingly provided false information to health insurance providers, including Medicare, that resulted in millions of dollars in excess payments to him and his medical practice, Mid-Hudson Medical Group. Under the law, this constitutes insurance fraud, which is a form of health care fraud.
Panos also read a prepared statement before sentencing. His voice cracked and, at one point, he began sobbing as he spoke of accepting responsibility for his actions. He apologized to his former colleagues, patients and family. He said he intended to atone for his sins so he could one day look in his children's eyes and hope for forgiveness.
In advance of the hearing, Panos submitted a letter to the court explaining why he filed the false insurance claims. The letter said that by 2008, two years after he joined the board of his medical practice, he was falsifying insurance records almost every time he performed surgery.
“I wish I could tell you I had noble motives for this -- but I did not,” Panos wrote. “I did this out of greed and insecurity. ... The influx of money I was bringing into Mid-Hudson increased my pay and earned me the admiration of my fellow shareholders. It was as simple as that.”
More than 260 Civil Cases Still Pending
But many of the more than 260 plaintiffs who have filed civil suits against him say it is not so simple for them.
“He has taken so much away from so many people. No matter what jail time he got it isn’t enough for what he has done to everybody,” said Christine Steele, a 50-year-old single mother of two and a former postal worker who had two unnecessary knee surgeries performed by Panos. He mishandled the last surgery so badly, she said, she was forced to file for disability four years ago and has been unable to work full-time ever since.
Debra Nenni McNamee, whose mother, Constance Nenni, died shortly after having a faked knee surgery by Panos, said that while she is glad he is finally being punished for his crimes, she is angry that he will never be tried for what he allegedly did to her mother.