MIAMI (AP) - An April 1 trial date was set Thursday set for the alleged mastermind of an $800 million insurance fraud scheme regardless of the status of his shaky health.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola said 63-year-old Joel Steinger will go to trial that day no matter what, even if it means providing him "extraordinary and costly" medical accommodations in court. The former chief of now-defunct Mutual Benefits Corp. was set for trial in September, but that was delayed so he could undergo medical tests for a chronic and debilitating spinal ailment.
A clearly exasperated Scola said there will be no more postponements in a case dating to 2008.
"We're going to trial April 1. Hopefully, we'll finish by July 4," the judge said.
Mutual Benefits, based in Fort Lauderdale, sold investments in life insurance policies held by people with AIDS, cancer and other often-terminal illnesses. The policyholder would get paid a discounted amount up front by the investor, who would collect the larger insurance payoff when the person died.
The key was estimating the policyholders' life expectancies, which prosecutors say Steinger and others at Mutual Benefits manipulated fraudulently, along with the company's financial statements and estimated return to investors. Thousands of investors lost some $830 million in the scheme, according to court documents.
Steinger has pleaded not guilty. His brother, 61-year-old Steven Steiner, pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire and mail fraud conspiracy charges in the main Mutual Benefits case and also pleaded guilty in two related cases. The brothers spell their last names differently.
Scola also set a Dec. 19 hearing to determine why Steinger has not undergone surgery recommended by doctors who recently examined him. Steinger had begged the judge to delay his September trial date for just that reason.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin said in court papers it appears that Steinger is using his health in an attempt to manipulate the justice system. Steinger's attorney, Steve Haguel, denied that, saying it had more to do with where Steinger would undergo post-surgery rehabilitation.
But Scola said he'll decide after the December hearing "whether he has intentionally manipulated the system by refusing to go forward with recommended medical treatment."
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