Oakland Co. doc with rare coin collection pleads guilty
A West Bloomfield Township neurologist who reaped millions by allegedly cheating Medicare and spent more than $9.3 million on baseball cards, ancient coins, collectable currency and stamps pleaded guilty on Monday to felony charges.
Dr. Gavin Awerbuch pleaded guilty to health care fraud and distribution of controlled substances before U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow.
Awerbuch is accused of defrauding Medicare of $1.9 million and Blue Cross Blue Shield $1.2 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. Subsys is a liquid form of Fentanyl.
Tarnow questioned Awerbuch for several minutes in court on Monday, saying if he accepted his guilty plea: “For the end of your life, you’ll be known as a felon.”
Awerbuch, 58, who also practices as a pain management doctor and is affiliated with Huron Valley Hospital in Oakland County, said he understood.
When asked why he was pleading guilty, Awerbuch said he prescribed the drugs “outside the normal course of medicine” and ordered EMGs (electromyographies) that were medically unnecessary.
The criminal acts were committed in 2009 and in 2013, Awerbuch said, in offices spread across the Eastern District, including West Bloomfield Township, Saginaw and Flint.
Awerbuch’s sentencing guidelines call for 70 to 87 months in prison, but Tarnow said he could face up to 30 years in prison under the charges.
Awerbuch’s coin collection, which was appraised but prosecutors declined to say its value, along with $2.9 million in cash were seized by prosecutors to pay restitution in the case.
Awerbuch’s plea agreement requires him to pay $4.1 million to the U.S. Treasury Department. Prosecutors said that money will be used to pay the victims in the case, Blue Cross and Health and Human Services, which operated Medicare. That portion of the plea agreement must be approved by Justice Department officials in Washington.
Also, $1 million will go to the U.S. Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund, which can be used to compensate local law enforcement agencies.
According to prosecutors and court records, Awerbuch amassed his extensive collection, including coins from ancient Rome, using cash generated by his five-year crime wave.
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 collectibles Awerbuch purchased were spread across several locations. Investigators found gold and silver coins at his medical office in Saginaw, along with Roman coins honoring emperors Titus and Claudius.
Investigators also found a coin from ancient Judea, according to a search warrant inventory. At his $1.1 million West Bloomfield Township 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.
Tarnow reminded Awerbuch that he would lose the right to vote if he accepted his guilty plea to a felony on Monday. He asked the doctor if he had voted yet. Awerbuch said no.
Tarnow said he would accept the plea on Wednesday to allow Awerbuch to vote Tuesday in the U.S. presidential election.
Awerbuch’s sentencing date is Feb. 7. He remains free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
Awerbuch’s lawyer, Mark Kriger, was not immediately available for comment.