Crime

Dr. Albert Diaz will be sentenced Thursday for fraud. His wife just filed for divorce.

The wife of a 78-year-old doctor facing life in prison in an insurance fraud case is suing for divorce, saying he deserted her, on the eve of his sentencing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg.

Kay Diaz filed for divorce May 15 in Jackson County, where the Diazes lived together until he was jailed March 2 after a jury convicted him of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, fraud, falsifying records to cover up his crimes and distribution of a controlled substance — ketamine, a drug used for sedation.

Diaz was served with the divorce papers in the Stone County jail around the time of the couple's 28th wedding anniversary on May 26, court records show.

His lawyer, John Colette, will be arguing at the sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon that the beloved obstetrician and gynecologist should spend less than five years in prison for his crimes. The government argues Diaz's sentence should be in the range of about nine to 11 years.

Colette says Diaz did not profit from his crimes and should also get less time because of his age. He said the doctor is in poor health and had to be taken from jail to the hospital a couple of weeks ago with hypertension. Diaz, who was still working before his trial, also needs a walker to get around.

Colette said Thursday morning he also will argue for less time because Diaz did not profit from the scheme that defrauded the government's military insurance program, TRICARE, of $2.4 million.

"This is the only fraud case I've ever heard in the world where there was no financial benefit," he said. "In other words, it's not driven by greed."

The U.S. Attorney's Office will argue for a longer sentence based on a number of factors, including the amount TRICARE lost, plus the fraudulent claims submitted to private companies, which totals close to $2.8 million. Prosecutors also claim Diaz committed perjury when he testified.

Diaz, who delivered thousands of babies on the Coast, has lost his license to practice medicine.

Two co-conspirators in the case, Jay Schaar of Biloxi and Jason May of Lamar County, pleaded guilty and are free on bonds while they await sentencing.

Schaar, a pharmaceutical representative, recruited Diaz to write prescriptions for compound drugs that were filled at Advantage Pharmacy in Hattiesburg, co-owned by May. May and Schaar have admitted that drugs were compounded based on profit potential, not need.

Diaz prescribed the drugs for patients he had not seen, then, after an investigation started, back-dated records to make it appear he had examined some patients. The conspiracy started in October 2014 and continued until around January 2017.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett, who will sentence Diaz, has received more than 100 letters asking for leniency and attesting to the doctor's good works, Colette said.

His colleagues, friends and former patients post regularly on a Facebook page, Support Albert Diaz, MD, and recently held a rally at which he spoke to them by phone from jail. Many supporters are expected to make the trip to Hattiesburg for his 1 p.m. sentencing hearing.

Colette said, "I think the courtroom will be full — wall to wall."

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