Beefy brawler sentenced for role in $120M health care fraud scheme

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A former heavyweight mixed martial artist and bare-knuckle brawler who conspired with a Metro Detroit doctor at the center of one of the largest health-care fraud schemes in U.S. history was sentenced Tuesday to a year in a halfway house.

The sentence of Josh Burns, 43, of Dexter, fell short of the minimum 18-month sentence recommended by prosecutors who credited Burns with helping secure the conviction of Woodhaven Dr. Frank Patino in September. In addition to the halfway house time, Burns must pay $144,000 restitution.

Josh Burns

The 5-foot-11-inch, 262-pound Burns, who sports shiners, bruises and welts in photos and videos posted on social media, along with a tattoo of his nickname "Hammer" down the length of his spine, was a colorful, fringe figure in a broader, $120 million scheme headed by Patino, an alligator-wrestling, frequently shirtless fraudster who prescribed excessive amounts of opioids to patients at his Livonia clinic.

Burns funneled kickbacks to Patino from medical labs that paid money in exchange for the doctor referring patients to their clinics for urine tests. In this portion of a broader scheme, Patino referred more than $2.6 million worth of lab services and Burns had the kickbacks deposited in his bank account and spent some of the cash on the doctor's behalf sponsoring MMA fighters.

"Had Medicare known that the tests were performed as a result of kickbacks and bribes, it would not have paid a single dollar for them," U.S. Trial Attorneys Kathleen Cooperstein and Steven Scott wrote in a sentencing memorandum. "To put it bluntly, these tests were a waste of Medicare funds, and by participating in an illegal scheme to refer them, Burns inflicted a great deal of harm to the public health system and the citizens it serves."

Burns and Patino were involved in a case resulting from a prolonged government focus on health care fraud across the country. Since 2018, various schemes have cost the nation's healthcare programs almost $9.7 billion, according to the Justice Department.

Frank Patino

Burns posted an 8-10 record during an MMA career from 2006-16 before competing in Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship events. He knocked out heavyweight Sam Shewmaker in the first round of a September event in Nebraska in what could be his last fight for a few years.

The sentence by Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood includes three years of supervised release and comes three years after Burns pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and pay and receive health care kickbacks. He faced up to five years in prison but prosecutors sought a lesser sentence, in part, because Burns provided truthful and prolonged assistance and testified against Patino in September.

Burns, an Army veteran and father of seven who also works as a bouncer, was misled by Patino and others and shouldn't spend any time in prison, defense lawyer Ryan Machasic wrote in a memo to the judge.

"Moreover, he has learned that he cannot take the word of others with a profit motive when deciding how to conduct himself and his business," the lawyer wrote. "He did not have a corrupt motive, but was mislead by those who used him to further their own interests, like Patino."

Burns deserves a prison term, prosecutors said.

"Burns was hardly a passive participant in this scheme," the prosecutors wrote. "He brokered the deal between Patino and the labs, and acted as a conduit for the illegal payments."

Former heavyweight mixed martial artist and bare-knuckle brawler Josh Burns pleaded guilty Thursday for his role in a $112 million health-care fraud case involving an alligator-wrestling doctor.

A prison sentence will help Burns receive vocational training and education, prosecutors wrote.

"For much of his adult life, Burns has worked in professions that are physically taxing — for example, bare knuckle boxing, mixed martial arts, bouncing, and landscaping," prosecutors wrote. "The kickback scheme to which Burns has pleaded guilty presented an opportunity to earn a living without damaging his body, an opportunity at which Burns appears to have leapt. With the proper education and vocational training, Burns will have greater opportunity to pursue legal employment of a non-taxing nature going forward."

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