For eight hours Monday, Andrew Siegel waited in a Tampa courtroom as lawyers argued what his sentence should be for paying state employees to steer clients to Future Steps, his Pinellas Park drug treatment program.
When his turn came, Siegel could barely talk through tears during a 15-minute plea for leniency.
In the end, Siegel got what he wanted: two years in prison, the lowest possible term under sentencing guidelines. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday added three years probation and a $5,000 fine and allowed Siegel to remain free on bail pending his appeal.
Siegel, 41, and two others were convicted in February of conspiring to pay and receive kickbacks for sending Medicaid patients to Future Steps. They were indicted in 1994, a year after a Times series detailed abuses in the patient brokering industry.
Brenda Henry, 36, and Angela Starks, 38, both employees of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, were found guilty of taking more than $5,000 for referring 18 indigent, pregnant drug abusers into Future Steps.
A fourth defendant, Robin Doud-Lacher, 41, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and testified for the government in the 13-day trial. All three women are scheduled for sentencing later this year.
On Monday, Siegel continued to insist he did nothing wrong, and said the defunct Future Steps saved the government money. "What's happened in this courtroom .
. I've heard my dream attacked and I've heard spiteful yelling about what I meant to do, and it's lies," he said.
"This case is not about bad people who have been convicted of a crime. It's about good people."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Hansen argued that Siegel is simply an unrepentant criminal.
"The issue is not the good that Future Steps did," Hansen said. "The point really is the defendant's actions that led him to believe he could take advantage of the system, put a few more bucks into his pocket. And it was his greed that brought Future Steps down."
A 1993 Times series, "The Patient Pipeline," detailed how brokers match patients with treatment centers eager to keep their beds full, and found some brokers referred patients for treatment they do not need.
Siegel, Henry, Starks and Doud-Lacher were indicted a year later, and the Florida Legislature outlawed patient brokering in April.
On Monday, Siegel's attorney, Arnold Levine, blamed the whole case on the Times coverage.
Levine and Hansen spent Monday arguing whether Siegel should receive credit for accepting responsibility for his actions without admitting wrongdoing, and whether his sentence should be increased because he was the ringleader of the conspiracy. Merryday decided that both factors should be considered in the sentence.
_ Information from Times files was used in this story.