William and Sara Hickman

William and Sara Hickman are escorted out of the FBI office in Northfield after being charged with participating in the ongoing health benefits fraud scheme March 15.

CAMDEN — A U.S. District judge granted a continuance Tuesday morning for attorneys representing the seven South Jersey co-defendants charged as part of a more than $50 million health care benefits fraud scheme to allow them time to review the extensive discovery in the case.

The handful of defense attorneys, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney R. David Walk Jr., agreed to schedule the next court hearing in 90 days.

“Given the volume, it has taken and will take a considerable amount of time to process and review the material,” Walk said, adding evidence includes about 28 gigabytes of data with more than 110,000 documents and more than 500,000 pages. “At the end of that period, we are hopeful we can map out a schedule for pretrial motions.”

The next court appearance is slated for 3 p.m. Sept. 24.

Only two of the co-defendants were present in court, William Hickman, 42, a pharmaceutical sales representative, and Thomas Schallus, 42, a Ventnor police officer. Attorneys for the other defendants waived their clients’ appearances.

Hickman’s lawyer, Samuel Moulthrop, said the process of going through the evidence has been “slow.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of material to review. There’s just a lot to get a handle on,” Moulthrop said. “We’re not going to be in a position to know what we have until September.”

Moulthrop also said he has raised some issues with Walk so far, but they’re “not yet ripe” to talk about in court.

Prosecutors allege William Hickman and his wife, Sara, were major figures in a local criminal organization authorities said contributed to a pyramid of fraud in which public employees were recruited to secure prescriptions for expensive, medically unnecessary medications in exchange for kickbacks, cheating taxpayer-funded public workers’ health insurance programs.

In addition to Hickman and Schallus, those who have pleaded not guilty include:

Sara Hickman, 42, of Northfield, a former charter school teacher

Brian Pugh, 41, of Absecon, co-owner of Tony’s Baltimore Grill and owner of BP Med 1 LLC

Christopher Broccoli, 47, of West Deptford, Gloucester County, a Camden firefighter

Thomas Sher, 46, of Northfield, and John Sher, 37, of Margate, both Margate firefighters

More than 30 people have been charged in the case since August 2017. Most are from Atlantic County, and the list includes teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees, along with a doctor and pharmaceutical representatives.

Conviction of conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Since the defendants’ last court appearance in April, a former Ventnor firefighter pleaded guilty in federal court in the case, joining 23 others who have accepted plea agreements.

Edward Sutor Jr., 36, of Linwood, admitted to receiving $335,552 for his role in the scheme. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Contact: 609-272-7241 mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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