MD accused of fraud allegedly sent funds to Hasidic group

The National Post, Canada/October 12, 2010

By Joseph Brean

A Toronto family doctor who repaid $3.5-million he allegedly defrauded from the province's health system in return for a plea deal on fraud and money-laundering charges last year was sending proceeds of his alleged fraud to the Montreal wing of Chabad Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish group, according to documents filed with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

No evidence has been presented about whether Chabad Lubavitch knew anything about the source of the money, or what was done with it.

The college's allegations are the first time the Hasidic sect has been publicly identified as the business that was searched in November 2007, as part of the fraud investigation of Dr. Lorne Wayne Sokol, leading to the added money laundering charge.

That investigation, by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and Ontario Provincial Police, looked into Dr. Sokol's billings for pain treatments.

Dr. Sokol, 50, was a frequent witness at WSIB hearings into compensation claims, with a special focus on pain management.

From the beginning, his case was kept mostly secret behind a publication ban.

An OPP press release in October 2007, alleged Dr. Sokol billed for services that were never delivered, and he was charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000, although no total was specified.

A year later, 2008, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which regulates doctors in Ontario, restricted his practice by ordering him to submit to monthly reviews of his billing. But it was not until his court appearance on the plea deal last December that his alleged fraud was revealed to be more than $3-million.

An agreed statement of facts said he billed for services that were "not compensable," and the matter was described to the court as a failure of record keeping, resulting in excessive billing of $3.5-million over four years.

Under the deal, Dr. Sokol repaid that amount last year, most of it to the WSIB, and pleaded guilty to the lesser provincial offence of breaching the Health Insurance Act by submitting improper billings to OHIP and WSIB. He was fined $31,250 and left with no criminal record.

In a notice of hearing for his forthcoming discipline hearing, the college alleges that the facts underlying his guilty plea constitute professional misconduct, for which his licence could be revoked.

The notice lays out rough details of the criminal case and states that, "between March 1, 2003 and February 15, 2007, [Dr. Sokol] did send to Colel Chabad Lubavitch Foundation of Israel in Montreal, Quebec, monies with the intent to convert a percentage of those monies knowing that all or part of the monies were obained as a result of the commission in Canada of the designated offence of Fraud Over $5,000," contrary to the money laundering section of the criminal code.

Dr. Sokol's lawyer on the criminal matter did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Chabad Lubavitch is among the world's largest Hasidic Jewish organizations. Five people, including a Brooklyn rabbi, died when their mission in Mumbai was a primary target of the 2008 terrorist attack there.

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