JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A central Florida ophthalmologist is being held without bail on charges of Medicare fraud after U.S. Magistrate Patricia Barksdale ruled Monday that he is a flight risk.
David Ming Pon, 56, is accused of submitting false bills and records to a Medicare billing center in Jacksonville. The Florida Times-Union reported Pon pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of health care fraud related to cases that occurred between 2006 and 2011 in Orlando and Leesburg.
According to authorities, Pon told patients they had macular degeneration that required laser surgery to prevent blindness. The Times-Union reported the false diagnoses and treatments were done in Pon's sole proprietary practice at the Advanced Retina-Eye Institute in Leesburg and a satellite office in Orlando.
Pon surrendered to authorities on Friday after months of plea negotiations broke down. He faces up to life in prison.
Under the plea agreement, he would have faced 10 years in prison, and a forfeiture of millions in property.
Barksdale set Pon's trial date for summer.
The government is seeking to recover some $7 million paid to Pon by Medicare as part of the scheme, in addition to forfeitures of home in Orange County and a Lexus and a Porsche convertible.
Pon's attorneys promised that he would show up to his trial. They called several witnesses who support Pon and his work.
"He's an angel to man," said Vijay Mahindro, who has known Pon for 25 years. "He has a community waiting for him."
Prosecutors, however, presented a different side of Pon.
A federal agent testified that Pon used the laser at such a low level that the treatments offered no help. Federal prosecutor Mark Devereaux said Pon has $10 million in investments in China and has a connection to a Shanghai condo linked to him and his soon-to-be ex-wife.
While the judge commended Pon on turning himself in, she said other factors, including the seriousness and type of charges, his million dollar investments in China and a lack of family ties in Florida, weighed heavily on her decision to keep him in jail.
Pon has practiced since 1990. The state suspended his access to collect Medicare and Medicaid last year after he was investigated for three malpractice complaints against him.