Eye doctor acquitted of fraud charges

By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - An eye doctor was acquitted Thursday on insurance fraud charges accusing him of overbilling for patient care by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dr. James J. Edwards, 56, of Bath, an ophthalmologist with an office in suburban Parma, was found innocent in U.S. District Court on 38 counts of what is known as "upcoding."
"If there are five levels of work on something, and you do a level two but charge for a five, that's upcoding," said assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Blake, who prosecuted the case.
The jury returned the verdict Thursday morning. Closing arguments wrapped up Wednesday afternoon in the week-and-a-half long trial.
"I couldn't be any more happy than if I saw Jesus Christ and he saved my soul," Edwards said, minutes after he was acquitted. "Independence Day is gonna have a new meaning for me."
Edwards, who has continued to practice since the case began, said he lost 10 insurance companies and around 3,000 patients from his 16,000 patient practice because of the publicity surrounding the trial.
"It's been just a nightmare. When a physician is accused of fraudulent activities, it isn't like any other kind of professional," Edwards said. "Basically, I've been living from paycheck to paycheck."
Edwards originally was indicted on 96 counts of fraud in January. Among the counts were charges that he performed unnecessary eye surgery procedures and charged for them, and charged for procedures he never actually performed. Prosecutors dropped those counts on Monday.
Each count carried a possible 10-year prison term and $250,000 fine.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)