Doctor in opioid, fraud case could be freed on $10M bond

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Rajendra Bothra

Detroit — A federal judge Tuesday could free the accused mastermind of a nearly $500 million health care fraud on a Bernie Madoff-sized bond.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy is considering releasing Dr. Rajendra Bothra on $10 million bond while the 77-year-old Bloomfield Hills doctor awaits trial on charges he and five other doctors fueled the nation's opioid epidemic, cheated Medicare and subjected patients to needless, painful back injections.

The $10 million bond would be one of the largest ever issued by a federal judge nationwide and match the bond given to Madoff, the New York financier convicted of heading a multibillion dollar Ponzi scheme. A bond also would serve as a reversal of fortune for Bothra, who was ordered held without bond last month after a federal magistrate judge deemed him a flight risk.

Bernard L. Madoff leaves US Federal Court January 14, 2009 after a hearing regarding his bail in New York.

The amount is dwarfed nationally by the $100 million bond issued to Sri Lankan hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam by a federal magistrate judge in 2009.

Bothra's bond would reflect the doctor's status as lead defendant in a nearly $500 million conspiracy, one of the largest health care fraud cases in U.S. history, and "make it, at least, economically irrational to leave this jurisdiction," Murphy said during a Jan. 9 hearing.

Bothra is poised to leave prison despite concern among federal prosecutors that more than a dozen doctors and medical professionals charged with federal crimes locally have fled the country or disappeared in recent years amid a crackdown on illegal opioid use and health care fraud.

Doctors flee country amid fraud, opioid crackdown

The bond could be secured by an $8.5 million retirement account created by Bothra with money untainted by a conspiracy that prosecutors say started in 2013.

Prosecutors have tried keeping Bothra jailed pending trial in July, arguing the doctor is a serial liar and a flight risk with deep ties to India and at least $1 million in overseas bank accounts. Bothra has refused to disclose his true net worth, which could be as much as $35 million, prosecutors said.

The judge Tuesday will try to pinpoint Bothra's true net worth. 

The doctor likely will face other bond conditions. The judge has indicated he wants Bothra released on home confinement and tracked by a GPS tether.

Bothra doesn't want to tap the entire $8.5 million retirement account. His lawyers have proposed a $7 million bond with the balance of the retirement account bankrolling living expenses and his legal team.

Bothra insists he has few remaining assets except for two debt-free properties, his Bloomfield Hills home and a $1.99 million island estate in Waterford Township that features a miniature train.

Bothra is willing to use both homes as collateral to secure the bond.

An island estate owned by Dr. Rajendra Bothra in Waterford Township is for sale for $1.99 million. (Video: YouTube)

Federal agents have seized an undisclosed amount of money from Bothra's bank accounts and property owned by his real estate firm Kaiser Real Estate.

The real estate portfolio includes at least 22 commercial and residential properties. Prosecutors have filed liens on several properties in downtown Royal Oak that have a total assessment of more than $2.8 million, including at least four condominiums.

Federal prosecutors have slapped liens on more than $2.8 million worth of property owned by Dr. Rajendra Bothra's real-estate company. The property includes (from clockwise) units in the SkyLofts building, Main North Lofts and Center Street Lofts project.

A $10 million bond would be the highest ever issued in the Eastern District of Michigan and shatter the current record-holder. In 2017, a federal judge freed Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville on $4.5 million bond.

Nagarwala, charged in the nation's first federal case involving female genital mutilation, received relaxed bond conditions Monday, two months after a judge ruled the nation's genital mutilation law was unconstitutional.

She was released from house arrest and can travel freely across the state without wearing a GPS tether. She also no longer has to be monitored by a third-party custodian.

Bothra, meanwhile, was ordered held without bond last month, but his legal team is trying to overturn the decision.

Bothra is not a flight risk or a danger to the public, his lawyers argued, noting that his medical clinics have been shut down.

"Dr. Bothra simply poses no risk to anyone — he is an elderly physician who has spent his entire life serving his community and has never been in trouble before in his entire life," Bothra's attorney Thomas Cranmer wrote in a court filing. "He has neither the means nor the inclination to threaten or endanger anyone."

Prosecutors fear Bothra could flee the U.S. with money invested overseas and with help from powerful friends and acquaintances, namely the billionaire Ambani clan in India. Bothra shares a friend with Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, an Indian conglomerate involved in the telecom, financial services and aviation industries, his lawyer said.

"Dr. Bothra’s connection with the Ambani family gives him access to a fleet of corporate jets that routinely visit the United States and can provide him with a means to flee," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandy McMillion wrote in a court filing.

The Ambani connection is irrelevant, Bothra's lawyer wrote in a court filing while arguing for bond.

"... there is no indication or evidence that Mr. Ambani knows about this case or that he would be willing to break the law for Dr. Bothra. And there is certainly no evidence that Dr. Bothra has (or plans) to request such of Mr. Ambani," Cranmer wrote. 

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