From the publisher

“Life Choices – Navigating Difficult Paths”
Pages 156-162
Copyright 2010 Turning Point International
Library of Congress Control Number: 2009940194
ISBN: 978-0-9825264-0-8

Martha, George and I

By: Dan Roberts

What do TV/Celebrity hostess Martha Stewart, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and yours truly have in common? We’re all convicted felons.

Ex-Con is the common term, but nevertheless we are all branded with this Scarlet letter for the rest of our lives.

Unlike Martha and George, I was not a multi-millionaire when the “stuff hit the fan” so my fellow former criminals have no idea what it is like to lose everything in the blink of an eye. Your job, your life-long profession, your home, your cars and bank accounts; everything that you accumulated over your life – gone.

They say every convict has a story. This is mine.

Ask anyone who knows me (and I’ll be the first to admit) I’m not the smartest person in a room. While my college buddies were out partying and enjoying the benefits of youth, I studied. Friday nights for me – as well as the rest of the week – meant going to the library and studying.

Somehow, I made it through law school and after failing the New York State Bar (like I said, not the smartest guy in the world) made it on the second try and was admitted to the Bar.

Through fate, luck and more hours working than you can imagine, I became the “man” for the medical transportation industry in New York State. Medical transportation is just a fancy “legal term” for the private ambulance and wheelchair accessible van companies.

In New York City alone, there were over 150 separate companies – and I knew them all; or more importantly, they knew me as “the lawyer” to call whenever they had a legal problem.

To an attorney’s delight, the medical transportation industry was heavily regulated by separate City, State and Federal rules, regulations and laws. I became and was the expert on all medical transportation legal issues.

Besides individual’s company problems that might require my legal services, there were many times when certain governmental agencies would “target” the industry. Whenever that occurred, I would receive the first frantic phone call, quickly followed by the second, third, fourth and on and on.

It really was not a question of whether I was a “great attorney,” but mostly the quality of my opposition. It was always a good talking point to remind my clients that the administrative agencies that were challenging them on any given moment were as “arrogant as they were incompetent.”

My win/loss record was quiet impressive and my ambulance clients respected me. The administrative agencies did not.

In 1994, after 16 years of such legal services, circumstances arose where I could “practice what I preached” to my clients. Along with members of my family, I was able to purchase a struggling ambulance company.

Life was good. In all candor, it was very good. Interestingly, since ambulances are a 24 hour, 7 day a week, 365 day operation, I was never “off-duty”- but while there were killer hours, I never considered it “work.”

The family joke was that a truly successful attorney is one who owned his own ambulance company – and to a certain degree it was true. I became my own “ambulance chaser.”

The medical transportation industry grew and changed with my former clients selling and retiring. Ambulance companies became “corporate” and a wave of consolidation began so the bigger ones could go “public.”

To my benefit, a number of mid-level management guys (and gals) who did the daily operations and who knew me from my attorney days of representing their employers, began lining up to join my company. I hired them all and within 3 years, my ambulance company grew by over 200%.

And then came the next industry wide audit.

The federal government, through its Medicare program came up with a “Report” that it was overcharged by various New York ambulance companies in the total amount of $109,000,000. My former government adversaries were on TV and quoted in the newspapers lambasting the ambulance services and alleging “overpayment and fraud.”

It made quite a few headlines and the 18 “named” companies quickly looked over the list to see where they were in the pecking order. My company was number 13 at $2,600,000.

Coincidently, as this became public, the national ambulance association was having its annual convention at the MGM Casino in Las Vegas. All New York companies attended and we had a separate meeting to discuss this issue.

The meeting was chaired by the ambulance owner who was number 1 on the list ($22 million) and he had the solution to our collective problems. He had contacts with a New York Congressman who was in the process of running for United States Senate.

If each company would contribute $25,000 to the Congressman’s future campaign, this problem would disappear. Yes, there might be some unknown “token” payment to settle, but the audit would go away.

Make no mistake, it was not a bribe, but a legal campaign contribution to a “concerned” politician reviewing the entire situation and resolving it.

If I could take back just one moment of time; a second chance with 20-20 hindsight, it would be that day.

If there was the possibility to make a pact with the Devil to do it all over again – a chance to play back that one singular moment – I would have stood up, jumped on the dais and screamed for the entire world to hear: “Damn the $25,000; let’s give him $50,000.”

Instead, I was horrified. I gave a speech, a lecture on right and wrong, the rule of law and the fairness of our situation. The audit was bogus, illegal and strictly a grandstanding bureaucratic tactic. We didn’t need a politician, I recall saying, we need justice.

To my everlasting regret, I refused to make that campaign contribution. It was the biggest mistake in my life.

Once I notified the Feds of my intention to challenge the audit, all hell broke loose. My company was accused of fraud and ripping off the Medicare system.

Medicare was able to “temporarily” suspend my company. Temporarily, as it turned out, was forever. Without Medicare reimbursement and with notice to all hospital and medical facilities of the potential “fraud and abuse,” my thriving company died overnight.

There are no words to adequately convey the fear when U. S. Marshals arrive at your door with subpoenas to take all records, file cabinets as well as your private papers. Boxes and boxes were taped shut and hauled out; all while your employees watched in indescribable horror as everything you once had disappeared.

A joint task force of state and federal workers spent the next 3 years looking over every single medical transport and the initial audit was expanded to 5 years. Every transaction was examined and re-examined.

I fought them – from hearing to hearing; from state to federal courts and appeals. It was a street fight, a legal war with guerrilla and nuclear tactics and weapons – with neither side giving an inch. It was a war of attrition.

That claim of $2,600,000.00? Even after expanding the audit two additional years, the final amount of overpayments was $4,920. Even the government dropped the allegation of “fraud.”

That’s less than a thousand dollars per year or $82 per month. Put another way, a reduction of 99.7% over the initial claim.

The government claimed “victory” in the final ruling; after all, there was indeed an overpayment of monies. And they protected the taxpayers.

They also reviewed every mailed or filed document to any government agency, looking for anything – and they found one. They claimed it contained “false statements” and since they were unsure as to who sent it – it was obviously a criminal conspiracy.

Such conspiracy by the owners and officers of the company (meaning my parents, brother and wife) would be determined by a criminal trial. With separate attorneys to avoid any “conflict of interest,” the preliminary attorney fees quoted began at $250,000.

I was done. I couldn’t go on. Five years of hand-to-hand combat without any income had taken its toll. I gave up.

I pled guilty in federal court in March 1999 of submitting a “false statement.” Even with the government admission that there was no “harm” or “monies obtained,” it was a Class D felony.

No members of my family were ever implicated; but as the government pointed out, it was not a deal. It was also a “coincidence” that once I pled guilty, the government returned nearly $100,000.

I can say however, that I am the only convict in New York who ever received a refund after pleading guilty. How’s that for a lasting legacy?

Let’s be clear. I am not stating that I was framed or that there was a secret understanding. I pled guilty and I am and will forever remain a convicted felon. It is, what it is…pure and simple.

Am I bitter? I guess the honest answer is “not anymore.” But I sure was.

I have realized that it does not pay being bitter or angry or resentful. Life goes on (whether you want it to or not) and looking back does not accomplish anything except making you ill. It’s been nearly 10 years – enough already.

Where does one pick up the pieces of his life after such conviction? How does a family stay together after losing their home…their lifestyle… and after the shame and humiliation?

They say when God shuts a door, He opens a window. I hope that’s true.

Because if it is, then I guess I’m still going through that window. Maybe I gained a few pounds over the years, or that window may not be very large, but I do believe that such window exists.

That window allowed me to keep my proudest accomplishment. I still have my family. I’m still with my wife. And all our sons are with us in our new home state of Nevada.

I don’t know how many families could survive what we went through. I don’t know if it made us stronger, but I sure do know the meaning of love.

I learned that there is nothing like a crisis to discover who your friends are. Everybody likes you when you’re successful and have money…but it takes a very special individual; a true friend that stands by your side and watches your back when the bombs are incoming.

Let me remind you of another inspirational cliché – it’s not whether you getknocked down, it’s whether you get back up. Yes, I was knocked down; knocked completely out of the ring as a matter of fact – but was able to stagger and eventually stand up again.

With the help of my family, business partners and friends, we’ve established The Vegas Voice – the largest monthly senior newspaper in Nevada. With the economy being what it is and with newspapers in general dying by the day, I’m proud to say that our publication is still growing; still expanding.

And that’s no small feat.

No, I never met Martha Stewart or George Steinbrenner who were able to successfully return to their original profession. However, I must admit that I love my life as publisher; working with my family and friends and meeting new people every day.

Maybe, just maybe, if I lose a few pounds and squeeze a little harder, I’ll push through that window yet.

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