CAMDEN — The federal sentencing for a retired Margate firefighter who has pleaded guilty in the state health benefits fraud case was postponed Friday, a move that’s not at all unusual in a case of this size, according to attorneys for the defendants.
Michael J. Sher, 40, of Northfield, was set to be sentenced in federal court before U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler, but he became the most recent of the 19 defendants whose sentencings were postponed.
Sentencing dates for the first 12 defendants who pleaded guilty were scheduled for December and February, but as more pleas came in, they have since been rescheduled twice, postponing the court appearances to March through June and now to July. A new date for Sher has not been set.
Among the attorneys with defendants in the case who responded to requests for comment, the change of dates wasn’t at all surprising, given the number of defendants.
“In complex federal cases involving a large number of co-defendants, it is not unusual for sentencings to be postponed pending further determination of the unresolved cases,” said Richard Sparaco, attorney for pharmaceutical representative Steven Urbanski. “There are many reasons for this, including U.S. Probation’s need to obtain a full understanding of the entire case in order to prepare an accurate and informed presentence investigation report.”
Michael J. Engle, attorney for Margate doctor James Gaffney, said it was “completely normal in a case this big.”
“There’s nothing unusual about delays in federal sentencings,” said Joseph Levin, attorney for former Atlantic City firefighter Michael Pepper. “I don’t believe that any of the defendants will be sentenced soon.”
Asked why the sentencings keep getting pushed back, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he can’t discuss the reasons for a sentencing date change unless it is noted on record.
Sher pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to commit health insurance fraud in the $50 million conspiracy that targeted the lucrative State Health Benefits Plan.
The case is centered on a massive prescription fraud scheme from January 2015 to April 2016 that involved the recruitment of public employees, including teachers, firefighters, municipal police officers and State Police troopers, to obtain medically unnecessary prescriptions for patients doctors never treated, according to federal court documents.
Pepper, Gaffney and Urbanski, as well as pharmaceutical representatives Matthew Tedesco, Thomas Hodnett, Judd Holt and George Gavras, and Robert Bessey, a gym floor installer from Philadelphia, are scheduled for sentencing July 17.
Pharmaceutical sales representatives Richard Zappala, Michael Neopolitan and Andrew Gerstel, Pleasantville High School teacher Richard “Erick” McAllister, commercial construction estimator Timothy Frazier and industrial salesman William Hunter are scheduled for sentencing July 18.
Pleasantville guidance counselor Michael Pilate, Middle Township teacher Shawn Sypherd and Nicholas Tedesco, a retail director for a candy company, are scheduled for sentencing July 19.