- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

A prominent HIV doctor in the District should receive “significant” prison time because of his conduct during a federal investigation into phony Medicare billing, federal prosecutors say.

Dr. Larry M. Bruni told his two Afghan hounds to bite federal investigators when they arrived at his residence in upstate New York last year with a warrant to search his computer, the prosecutors said in a sentencing document last week.

“The defendant commanded the dogs, saying ‘sick them — bite them,’ ” the document states.

One investigator drew her weapon but did not fire, telling Dr. Bruni to get his dogs under control, the prosecutors said.

“Only then did the defendant comply … and put the dogs away,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Cheatham wrote in the document, in which she also calls for Dr. Bruni to receive 10 to 16 months in prison.

The physician, who moved to New York in 2003, pleaded guilty in March in a scheme in which $150,000 in Medicare funds landed in his bank accounts for bogus services.

Dr. Bruni’s attorney could not be reached Friday, but he filed court papers asking a federal judge to postpone sentencing scheduled for this week.

The attorney, Michael Fayed, said he needs more time to gather Dr. Bruni’s medical records, including details about whether the doctor will need surgery for chronic back pain.

In March, Dr. Bruni admitted guilt under a legal provision called “willful blindness,” meaning he knew there was a high probability that criminal activity was taking place but never did anything about it.

Another person was involved in the scheme, according to charging documents. But federal authorities have not identified the person.

At a court hearing in March, Dr. Bruni said he was having personal problems when the phony billing took place.

Since the 1980s, Dr. Bruni had been one of the District’s leading HIV and AIDS doctors. A. Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, in a previous interview called Dr. Bruni “kind and generous,” saying he treated many people who couldn’t afford to pay for his services.

According to court records, federal investigators began looking into Dr. Bruni’s finances in 2003, when they discovered irregularities in billing for a heart attack drug called Reteplase.

The drug is a blood thinner that is almost always administered only once to a heart attack patient, usually at a hospital within a few hours of an attack.

But Medicare billing records showed that Dr. Bruni’s office had billed the government for injecting the drug into one patient more than 100 times, court records say.

Investigators went to Dr. Bruni’s residence in New York to examine his computer for medical files. But they were thwarted because the hard drive was missing several circuit chips.

According to court documents filed by prosecutors, a government computer analyst found that “the damage was caused by someone deliberately trying to destroy the drive and/or the data on the drive.”

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