Detroit area doctor could forfeit coin trove worth millions in fraud case
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Gavin Awerbuch's marital status.
A West Bloomfield neurologist who reaped millions by allegedly cheating Medicare spent more than $9.3 million on baseball cards, ancient coins, collectable currency and stamps — a rare collection he could soon lose to the government.
Dr. Gavin Awerbuch amassed the collection — including coins from ancient Rome — using cash generated by an alleged five-year crime wave, according to federal court records that offer rare insight into the secretive world of coin collecting. At the upper end, the world is filled with hobbyists who, due to security concerns, protect the scope and value of their prized possessions.
Awerbuch's case shows a unique twist on a growing trend of health care professionals nationwide accused of spending money from fraudulent activities on valuable possessions, including homes and automobiles.
"This flabbergasts me. I never knew that his firepower extended that far," said Metro Detroit currency dealer Frederick Bart, who sold the doctor $360,225 worth of collectable currency printed before 1928. "He didn't have a target on his back where you thought 'here comes moneybags.' "
Federal prosecutors want the collection — experts say it could be among the richest in Michigan — forfeited to the government, along with $2.9 million in cash and a million-dollar Arizona vacation home.
Awerbuch, 57, is free on $10,000 unsecured bond. If convicted, he faces 10 years or more in federal prison. A preliminary exam has been set for June 29.
Though court records do not specify exactly which collectible items Awerbuch purchased, the extent of his coin collection is emerging more than one year after he was charged with health care fraud and distribution of controlled substances.
He was accused of defrauding Medicare of $7 million and prescribing so much of the cancer painkiller Subsys that he was the top dispenser in the country, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Awerbuch's defense lawyer, Mark Kriger, declined comment.
Newly filed court records show how Awerbuch spent money generated by allegedly fraudulent activity.
"(Sizable) purchases were made with dealers of rare and collectible coins, as well as dealers of other types of collectible items," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Grey wrote in a court filing. "These assets were purchased, at least in part, with criminally derived proceeds commingled in Awerbuch's various accounts."
From 2008 through 2013, Awerbuch spent $9,343,527 at more than a dozen coin and collectible dealers in Michigan and across the country, according to court records.
The bulk, $7 million, was spent at Kagin's Inc. The California firm deals in rare coins, such as a pioneer gold coin for $999,999 and the first coin struck in North America, a shilling priced at $299,500.
"He was a good client," company President Donald Kagin told The News this week. "Over the years, we've had good transactions with him with different types of coins."
Kagin would not reveal what Awerbuch bought from his store, citing client confidentiality.
The collectibles Awerbuch purchased were spread across several locations. Federal agents struck gold — literally — during searches at several locations.
Investigators found gold and silver coins at his medical office in Saginaw, along with Roman coins honoring Emperors Titus and Claudius.
"If they are in nice condition, those can go for many thousands of dollars, and do," said Thomas Klunzinger, who serves on the board of the Michigan State Numismatic Society, which encourages and promotes the study and collection of currency. "Every dye was different. If you have a Roman coin, maybe it was highlighting some battle or commemorating a victory. Those (coins) were the media of the day."
Investigators also found a coin from ancient Judea, according to a search warrant inventory.
At his $1.1 million West Bloomfield home overlooking Upper Straits Lake, investigators found boxes of coins, stamps and Costa Rican currency, prosecutors allege.
Awerbuch stashed more coins, collectible currency, baseball cards, jewelry and stamps in at least 16 safe deposit boxes at PNC and Fifth Third banks, according to court records.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors asked a judge to have the coins and collectibles forfeited to the government, alleging the items were purchased with proceeds of a crime.
Federal prosecutors have not itemized the individual pieces of Awerbuch's collection.
Just a few coins could be worth millions, said Julianna Wostyn, president of the Michigan State Numismatic Society.
"You can spend a horrendous amount of money, and it doesn't have to be gold," she said. "When you're talking paper money, in the last 10 years, paper money has skyrocketed."
She has never heard of Awerbuch or met him at area conventions.
"People don't want to make themselves known," she said. "Number one: They don't want to be knocked over. I won't say they look homeless, but coin collectors are not flashy people and do not go about bragging about themselves."
Besides the coins, prosecutors want to keep almost $3 million seized from Awerbuch's bank accounts.
The money includes $622,800 seized after Awerbuch sold his home in July 2014.
Prosecutors also want the doctor to forfeit his home in the Arizona desert, saying it was purchased with money generated by health care fraud and unlawfully distributing prescription drugs.
His ex-wife is fighting the request, saying she is the innocent owner of the 4,700-square-foot home, which has a putting green, wine room, outdoor pool and waterfall.
Awerbuch bought the home two years ago for $940,000, according to court records.
He paid cash.
From 2008-13, West Bloomfield doctor Gavin Awerbuch spent more than $9.3 million at 16 coin and collectible dealers, including:
New World Rarities Ltd.:$673,615
David Lawrence Rare Coins:$123,500
Source: U.S. Attorney's Office