Local physician indicted in alleged kickback scheme

Friday, September 19, 2014
Sonjay Joseph Fonn

Like his fictional counterpart, the owner of a downtown Cape Girardeau business used as a set for the film "Gone Girl" is facing allegations of criminal activity.

Also like his fictional counterpart, he will be exonerated, his attorney said Thursday.

Dr. Sonjay Fonn, a Cape Girardeau neurosurgeon and owner of The Bar, and his fiancee, Deborah Seeger, were indicted Thursday on federal charges of conspiracy and taking kickbacks, the federal prosecutor's office reported.

Deborah Seeger

Last month, a federal lawsuit accused Fonn and Seeger of violating an anti-kickback law that seeks to prevent conflicts of interest and overuse of medical services by prohibiting anyone from making or accepting payments for referring, recommending or arranging for federally funded medical services.

On Thursday, a federal grand jury handed down a four-count indictment accusing the couple of one count of conspiracy to solicit and receive illegal kickbacks and three felony counts of anti-kickback violations.

James Martin, who is representing Fonn in the civil and criminal cases, said Thursday afternoon he had not yet seen the criminal charges, but he reiterated earlier assertions that his client had done nothing wrong and would be cleared of the claims against him.

"We are very confident that there will be no basis for any criminal charges, and the only regret we have is that we're going to have to wait on the court date to prove it," Martin said.

Fonn owns Old Town Cape Dining LLC, which in January bought The Bar, 117 Themis St. In the film "Gone Girl," the character Nick Dunne -- who becomes the primary target of an investigation into his wife's disappearance -- owns The Bar.

The business' opening had been set to coincide with the October release of "Gone Girl."

The latest development in the case against Fonn should not affect the opening of The Bar, Martin said.

"I do not anticipate it will, no," he said.

The movie will be in theaters beginning Oct. 3. Martin said The Bar's exact opening date has "been a little fluid," but he expects to know sometime next week what day the business will open.

The criminal case against Fonn and Seeger alleges they operated DS Medical LLC together as a distributor of medical devices and supplies Dr. Fonn used in his practice, Midwest Neurosurgeons LLC.

The indictment accuses Fonn of altering his medical practice to include more surgeries than usual and to use more spinal implants in those surgeries during the time DS Medical was operating.

It also claims DS Medical charged manufacturers exorbitant commissions, which Fonn and Seeger then used to buy a home, boat, airplane and improvements to their house.

If convicted, Fonn and Seeger could face up to five years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000 for each count.

Attorney Sanford Boxerman, who is representing Seeger in the civil and criminal cases against her, said Thursday afternoon he had not had a chance to go through the charges yet, but like Martin, he expects his client to be exonerated.

"I'm disappointed that the government chose to go forward with it," he said. "We've been telling them for a number of years that we didn't think they had the basis for a criminal charge, and we still think they don't have the basis for a criminal charge."

Boxerman said having both criminal and civil cases stemming from the same allegations could complicate the proceedings.

"Whenever you have a parallel proceeding, there are issues and complications with that," he said.

The case against Fonn and Seeger began as a civil suit filed in January 2012 by attorneys for a group of medical personnel. The suit was sealed until July, when it was unsealed, dismissed and then refiled as a complaint by the United States itself.

The federal False Claims Act allows private individuals to sue on behalf of the federal government if they learn of fraud against the government.

Violators of the anti-kickback law can be subject to civil penalties of $50,000 per violation plus three times the amount of any payments they received.

epriddy@semissourian.com

388-3642

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