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Hearing on Tenet Bribery Case Is Delayed to May 22

The prosecution defers announcing whether it will pursue a third trial of the hospital company.

April 18, 2006|Lisa Girion | Times Staff Writer

A judge on Monday delayed until next month a hearing on whether Tenet Healthcare Corp. will face a third trial on charges that administrators bribed physicians to boost admissions at its San Diego hospital.

U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz declared a mistrial April 4 when jurors deadlocked after more than four months of deliberation. It was the second trial aborted because of a hung jury in the case.

U.S. Atty. Carol C. Lam had been expected to announce the prosecution's plans in a court hearing Monday. Instead, Lorenz granted her request for a delay until May 22.

At issue is whether the Dallas-based company's 311-bed Alvarado Hospital Medical Center and its former chief executive, Barry Weinbaum, violated criminal anti-kickback laws by funneling more than $10 million to physicians to increase admissions.

In a statement, Tenet said the case should be closed.

"Because there is no reason to believe any other jury would produce a different result, we earnestly hope that the prosecutors will decide not to try this case a third time," the company said. "We would like to devote our full energies to resolving the broader issues."

Tenet, which operates 69 hospitals, including 18 in California, has struggled through three years of losses.

In the Alvarado case, Tenet has maintained that the hospital made legitimate payments to physicians to help defray relocation expenses -- a method common in the industry for recruiting practitioners with needed specialties.

But prosecutors argued that Alvarado's relocation deals went beyond the bounds of legal relocation payments. They said the agreements conveyed more than $10 million in bribes to established physician groups to entice them to admit patients to the hospital.

Before news of the delay in a prosecution decision, shares of Tenet closed down 16 cents, or 1.8%, at $8.74.

Also on Monday, Tenet said that it had agreed to sell the 189-bed Gulf Coast Medical Center in Biloxi, Miss., to Health Management Associates Inc. for about $16 million after taxes.

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