GRAND RAPIDS - A federal judge Thursday sentenced Dr. Robert Stokes to 10.5 years in prison for medical insurance fraud. The sentence is below the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney's Office which called for 12.5-15 years in prison.
The government's case against Stokes began five years ago. That's when federal agents began investigating Stokes' charges to insurance companies. He was indicted on health care fraud charges in June 2006.
Prosecutors say Stokes billed insurance companies for more expensive procedures than his patients actually received. A jury convicted him last April.
Stokes Thursday was also ordered to pay a $175,000 fine. Judge Gordon Quist will order Stokes to pay restitution at a later date. Prosecutors have said Stokes' fraud totaled nearly two million dollars.
Several former patients of the East Grand Rapids dermatologist testified during the day long sentencing. One of them, Robert May, told the judge that Stokes "put us in harm's way for greed...the charges you face can't compare to the fear we face."
A representative of insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield, Gregory Anderson, said "the real victims are the citizens of Michigan and the employers that provide health insurance...the cost of fraud gets passed on to all of us."
Stokes did not admit any guilt or offer any apology when he had a chance to address Judge Quist. He said: "I never intended to harm any patients, and I don't think that I did. I regret if some feel I did...I hope the sentence you impose gives me the chance to rebuild my life."
One of Stokes' lawyers called the case "a run of the mill fraud case", a comment that produced laughter from some of his former patients seated in the fourth floor courtroom.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Beckering said Stokes "plowed forward with fraud despite warnings, and then he lied at his trial."
During his trial for insurance fraud, Stokes' alleged improper sterilization of medical instruments came to light. County health departments say thousands of the dermatologist's patients were at risk of infection. Thursday, six of Stokes' patients tested positive for Hepatitis C, though state health experts say they can't be certain those patients were infected through Stokes' care.
Stokes will be ordered to turn himself in to federal authorities to start serving his sentence at a later date. As he left the courthouse with one of his sons, he offered no comment to reporters.
John Bumgardner/Matt Campbell