By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
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In support of their claims, the attorneys filed an affidavit from Jay Schuetzle, an accountant who'd helped Ramos and Walford set up their business but later became allied with Mintz in the dispute. "Walford's business philosophy was summed up in a statement I often heard him make...'Bill 'em around the world,'" Schuetzle wrote. "This meant that they expected doctors to refer patients to the [clinics] for every diagnostic test and modality possible.... To my knowledge neither the medical doctors nor the chiropractors, nor the other providers — physical therapists, massage therapists, and acupuncturists contracted by the underlying entities — notified the patients [that] the doctors had a financial interest in those entities."
Schuetzle declined to discuss his association with Spine and Injury Centers with Westword. (Last year Spine and Injury Centers filed a breach-of-contract suit against Schuetzle that was settled out of court.) But court documents indicate that Schuetzle has his own simmering disputes with Walford and Ramos. He's accused the pair of coercing him to sign away his ownership interest in companies related to Spine and Injury Centers after he'd suffered an auto accident himself and was under the influence of powerful painkillers. He claims that Ramos burgled records out of his office and induced him "while drugged" to sign documents that he "could neither understand nor remember."
Ramos says that Schuetzle's claims are unfounded. He likens the multiple companies they managed to the way hospitals have contracted out various services, with a radiology group billing for X-rays, a group of emergency physicians running the ER, and so on. And, he adds, he's had no complaints from patients about the lien forms.
"Patients did sign lien agreements," says Ron Wilcox, one of the attorneys representing the medical providers in the lawsuit. "We've denied that there's anything unethical about that. Everyone understood that their care was going to be paid by their settlement."
Filings in the case accuse Ramos and company of everything from overbilling to violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act. A recurrent theme of the docs' responses is that Mintz considered them perfectly acceptable medical providers right up until the time Ramos began to question the payments his group was shelling out to the Lawyer Connection. By 2005 the dispute had come to encompass the accuracy of the doctors' bills and Mintz's refusal to disburse funds from his trust account; money owed to the Lawyer Connection by the doctors; and the deal over the office building. As the whole matter lurched toward court, the correspondence between opposing lawyers grew ever more ominous.
"My clients have records which will belie any claim of indebtedness to your client, unless your client believes he is entitled to some form of kickback," Ramos attorney Richard Cummins advised Mintz attorney Richard Levine (now representing Mintz's former clients) in one scathing missive. "Both of these parties are going to be in for what I am afraid is going to be a long and very painful encounter."
"I have very strong indications that certain of your clients and certain of their associates continue to spread their venom among the community of doctors, lawyers and clients against my client," Levine wrote in a similar vein. "Mr. Mintz's clients will decide for themselves whether to file grievances against your clients once they learn the full extent of self-referrals and billing practices through the time-consuming and expensive process of interpleader."
The rising acrimony didn't escape the notice of Mintz clients who were being treated by Ramos, Walford and Nadler. One of them, a registered nurse named Zahra Harrison, filed an affidavit alleging that Mintz had asked her to complain about Ramos to the state medical board and told her "that if I wanted to I could secretly record conversations between myself and Dr. Ramos."
Ethical guidelines for Colorado attorneys prohibit them from "surreptitious recording" of conversations or directing others to record. Mintz says he can't discuss a privileged conversation but denies ever directing a client to secretly tape someone. Harrison couldn't be reached for comment.
The medical group's bookkeeper also found herself caught in the maelstrom. Cheryl Clark, who ran a billing service and at one point was a salaried employee of Spine and Injury Centers, would later describe a series of cash-flow problems and declining revenues that seemed to stem from the elimination of PIP coverage in mid-2003. When Walford and Ramos ended their partnership a few months later, Clark was the one who ended up with boxes of patient files and requests from attorneys for records needed to settle clients' cases.
In addition to the battle with Mintz, "several insurance companies had begun investigating" Spine and Injury Centers, Clark noted in an affidavit. Ramos persuaded Clark to help him with the billing for his new venture, Mile High Medical Group — then instructed her to increase all billings by 25 percent, "so he could recoup any discount" the insurance companies or attorneys might demand from him. Clark eventually left Mile High, taking her billing records with her. She claims that Ramos and subsequent billing agents sought to obtain payments from some clients whose insurance companies had already paid their bills.