Local News

Friday, Nov 19 2010 07:14 PM

Drama surrounds sentencing of clinic operator and her husband

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    James Dodd smiles in the hallway of Superior Court shortly before being sentenced.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Shawn Renee Dodd, sentenced for, among other things, improperly billing insurance companies.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Former Dr. Richard Infante, center, points an accusing finger at James Dodd outside Department One in Superior Court where Dodd was sentenced for a misdemeanor conspiracy charge. Dodd's wife, Shawn Renee Dodd, was also sentenced at the same time on, among other things, improperly billing insurance companies and unlawfully operating a clinic. Infante was formerly employed by Dodd.

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BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer sswenson@bakersfield.com

In a medical fraud case surrounded by drama both inside and outside the courtroom, Shawn Renee Dodd was sentenced Friday to six years in prison and her husband, James, was sentenced to a year in jail despite their claims of innocence.

The judge also ordered Mrs. Dodd, 44, to pay $2.29 million and her husband to pay $45,900 in restitution. The couple's daughters, Sunny, 25, and Sierra, 21, cried as their handcuffed parents were taken out of the courtroom.

A case first filed in 2007 alleged Mrs. Dodd ran several medical clinics without a license, billed for services that weren't provided, improperly billed for services, falsely claimed her husband and mother earned money from her as a basis for them to obtain loans for vehicles, and falsely reported payroll information to pay the Employment Development Department less than what it was owed.

She pleaded no contest to charges of conspiracy to defraud based on her husband's motorhome purchase, failure to collect tax for the Employment Development Department, practicing medicine without a license and two counts of false insurance claims.

Outside the courtroom, two doctors associated with the case took totally divergent opinions -- Dr. Charles Phillips who now runs a clinic once managed by Shawn Dodd maintained she was totally innocent, and Dr. Richard Infante, who said he surrendered his license to practice medicine largely because of his association with Mrs. Dodd from 1997 to 1999, said the prosecution of Shawn Dodd didn't go nearly far enough.

Infante said the Kern County District Attorney's staff protected Mrs. Dodd because Ken Rhodes, the campaign treasurer for District Attorney Ed Jagels, was an accountant for some of her enterprises.

Prosecutor Kate Zimmermann replied that a six-year sentence in a white collar crime case is "a solid disposition" and the state Attorney General's staff examined Rhodes' role as an accountant working for Mrs. Dodd and found the fact he did work for both Dodd and Jagels did not create a conflict for the Kern County District Attorney's staff to prosecute the case.

Phillips, who said he's spent 4,000 hours investigating the case, said Mrs. Dodd pleaded no contest "under duress" to felonies.

Phillips said Mrs. Dodd was injured in a jail fight with another inmate and not provided appropriate medical care; she wasn't allowed to attend her mother's funeral; and she was constantly under pressure by having her phone conversations recorded.

Zimmermann replied that she was amazed at the private doctors Dodd arranged to visit during her 17 months in custody; that no request was made by her attorney to attend her mother's funeral; and jailers record conversations of all inmates. Mrs. Dodd was in jail in lieu of posting $1 million bail.

Mrs. Dodd herself proclaimed her innocence earlier this month when she talked to probation officers about two weeks after she pleaded no contest to five of 23 felony counts she faced.

"Dear Your Honor," she wrote in a statement to probation officers. "My name is Shawn Dodd and I never took anyone's money." She said it was "a disappointment to me, an asset to the community, to have to take a stipulation of six years" in prison. She said her attorney, Brian McNamara -- the fourth attorney she had in her case that began in 2007 -- told her if she went to trial "it would be like going to Las Vegas and gambling my life."

At the time Mrs. Dodd made that statement, she gifted a house, a 2004 Hummer and a boat -- valued at $207,000-- to her 18-year-old son, Skye, the probation report says.

Zimmermann said it will be up to those who are owed money by Dodd to challenge whether the gifting was "a bad faith" effort to avoid having those assets used for restitution.

As it is, more than $200,000 has been seized from Mrs. Dodd to go toward restitution. Zimmermann said she's not sure if Mrs. Dodd has any other money to pay restitution.

Back in 2007, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said in a news release, "Ms. Dodd seems to have quite an appetite for insurance fraud."

James Dodd, 52, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge, which was reduced from a felony, relating to fraudulently obtaining a loan for a motorhome, leaving the bank with a $45,900 loss, the probation report says. The loan was based on documents that said he worked for his wife's firm making $8,000 a month, but that was not true, the probation report said.

His attorney, Roger Lampkin, asked that Dodd be given electronic monitoring or a delay to report to jail until after a December doctor's appointment. Phillips said he came to court Friday to tell the judge Dodd was going to be given medication that would make it dangerous for him to be around a lot of people.

Judge MIchael Lewis, in having Dodd immediately go into custody, noted Dodd's medical condition could be treated in jail.

The probation report describes underlying activity in the charges Mrs. Dodd faced. It includes fraudulent disability claims by Mrs. Dodd; billing for services that weren't provided; using doctor's signature stamps, medical licenses and names without their permission to bill insurance companies; directing an employee to post-date a worker's compensation claim because she didn't have workers' compensation insurance at the time of the injury; and underpaying what she owed to the Employment Development Department.

Mrs. Dodd, who lists her education as a high school graduate along with some medical business classes, told deputy probation officers that after she gets out of prison, she wants to be a counselor for women and help place needy women in homeless shelters, perhaps in Colorado.

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