TAMPA - A Pasco County foot doctor who accepted kickbacks from a medical supply company now is faced with the end of his medical career in the United States.
Nimesh Patel was adored by his patients, as demonstrated in dozens of notes presented to a federal judge.
"I feel like you were sent by the Lord," one patient wrote. "I think about what you did for me and it always brings a smile to my face."
"I cannot thank you enough for all you have done for my dad," another person wrote. "You are the only doctor to listen to our concerns and actually do something. I am truly grateful that we found you."
In February, Patel pleaded guilty to accepting $8,000 worth of kickbacks from a company that makes synthetic skin used to treat foot ulcers.
According to his plea agreement, Patel accepted gift cards or cash and tickets to sports events in return for his continued use of the company's products. Because those products were used to treat Medicare patients, the kickbacks were a federal crime.
The plea agreement also says investigators found no evidence that Patel's conduct compromised his patients' care.
Defense attorney Scott Flint told U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven today that the felony conviction means Patel will lose his medical license, something Flint described as "massive collateral consequences" for his conduct.
Flint urged Scriven not to send Patel to prison or require him to serve probation. The lawyer said Patel hopes to practice medicine overseas, and has an interview lined up in Dubai.
Flint said in addition to working in medicine for 10 years, Patel has served in the U.S. military and treated service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. He even treated the late Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Flint said.
Accepting kickbacks was "an aberration in an otherwise law-abiding life," Flint said.
Patel told Scriven he is "apologetic and remorseful" for what he has done and the problems he has caused his family, colleagues and the community. The most difficult thing, he said, was hearing his 5-year-old say, "Daddy, you're not a surgeon anymore?"
"My mistakes have caused so much damage," he said. "I really had an awakening ... I was a captain in the military. I should have known better."
With no objection from prosecutors, Scriven said probation or incarceration wouldn't be necessary. Citing Patel's "substantial history of compliant conduct and service to the country," the judge instead fined Patel $5,000 and ordered him to forfeit $8,000 - the amount of the kickbacks - to the government.