|The Jon Woods Trial. Opening Day. Prosecution Tells Jury The Evidence Will Tell A Story Of Greed. |
By Lonce Lamonte - February 23, 2019
The prosecution opened their trial against Jon Woods, 58-year-old workers’ compensation applicants’ attorney, in Orange County Superior Court on Thursday, February 21st 2019. This predicted two months trial is now in session in court room C-40 of Judge Donahue on the 10th floor.
Lead prosecutor, Noorul Hasan, who possesses alluring Middle Eastern beauty and dark, glistening hair, regularly worn full and curled under slightly to her shoulder blades, gave her opening statement in the late morning after jury selection finally completed.
Deputy District Attorney (DDA) Noorul Hasan: The evidence in this case will tell a story of greed. Greed that led defendant Jon Woods to join a scheme to cheat and defraud California’s workers’ compensation system.
Ms. Hasan right away told the jury that her first witness would be James Fisher, an attorney for California’s Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) which is under the umbrella of the Department of Industrial Relations. Fisher has been with the DWC for twenty years and is an expert on the California workers’ compensation system.
Noorul explained to the jury that James Fisher would start by explaining the DWC-1, which is an employee’s first report of injury. He would go from there through medical provider networks, claims accepted, temporary disability, permanent disability, getting the worker back to work as the salient goal, and then claims denied.
She said Fisher would talk about the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB), the application for adjudication of claim, and how claimants don’t need to have an attorney to navigate their claim through the WCAB. However, applicants do get attorneys.
Noorul Hasan expressed to the jurors how applicants’ attorneys get a fixed percentage between nine to 20 percent. After a final settlement amount, that percentage goes to the attorney. But during the treatment process, the lawyer sends the patient to a doctor, to one or more doctors that treat on a lien basis.
She went through the basics, and then stated that according to James Fisher, the vast majority of claims are settled. There occur many “nuisance value” payments. It’s cheaper to pay all the liens rather than fight. Then she got to the prevalence of fraud, and the Legislature’s relatively new anti-fraud statutes.
DDA Noorul Hasan: Mr. Fisher will tell us that there are specific laws for workers’ compensation about you can’t go to workers and pay them to come and file workers’ comp claims. Because, of course, at the end it is the insurance carrier that’s paying. It is not coming out of the workers’ pocket.
So, the Legislature decided that there needs to be a law from (against) people going up and telling workers to file workers’ compensation claims and paying them to file a claim.
She went on to instruct that anyone who works as a provider in the workers’ compensation system is now prohibited from paying others to refer business to them. Lawyers cannot pay somebody to send them clients.
Referral services must be certified by the State Bar. These guidelines are engaged for the protection of the public. But attorneys can still jointly advertise their services. Non-lawyers cannot interfere with a lawyer and client relationship.
DDA Noorul Hasan: If we are going to accept a client or if we are going to reject a client, that’s a decision that a non-lawyer cannot do. The lawyer has to be in on the decision.
She spoke about everything the insurance payer has to pay for: the durable medical equipment, the transportation to medical appointments, the time the attorneys spend in the depositions, and the subpoenaing of records. She touched on how Jon Woods practices law in Signal Hill, which is the Long Beach area.
DDA Noorul Hasan: The evidence will show that in order to get clients, defendant paid Carlos Arguello money so he could supply clients to the defendant. And how will the evidence show that? Well, let’s talk about who Carlos Arguello is.
She opened up this discussion stating Carlos Arguello is a convicted felon. She informed the jurors that Arguello was charged by federal prosecutors in a case involving facts related to Woods’ case. It was the same scheme.
She included that fact that Arguello was charged also in this case along with Woods. It was a related case to which Arguello pleaded guilty and entered into a cooperation agreement with the People.
Arguello is going to be testifying in this case. Ms. Hasan revealed that she will ask him how he came to have this contract with the defendant. What were the terms? Additional evidence will be offered that establishes how that relationship was formed.
Noorul said that in March of 2011, Woods signed what was called a Joint Advertising Agreement. It will be in the evidence. She will show that a list of doctors Arguello emailed to Woods is nowhere mentioned in the contract. There is no mention in these contracts of his records subpoena company. The contract doesn’t mention anything about a chart that Arguello emailed to Woods about Arguello’s employees making decisions about what caller or what prospective client is going to be kept and which is going to be rejected.
Noorul Hasan: So, how did Arguello supply these clients? I am going to be asking Mr. Arguello a lot of these questions.
Distributors put business cards and flyers on parked cars predominantly in Hispanic neighborhoods. Arguello created websites. Every year his joint advertising company had a new name. It was called Centro Legal International, Justicia Legal International, Tu Justicia Legal, Centro de Abogados. And there were others. He just kept changing names over the years. The websites had different names over the years, too.
There were call centers. Operators would talk to the prospective clients. A sign-up rep would be dispatched. The company was controlled and affiliated with Carlos Arguello. The representative would show up to the home of the caller with legal documents to sign. The sign-up rep gave the card of the attorney to the signer.
Noorul said she would be calling Dulce Gallegos to the stand. Dulce had been a personal assistant to Carlos Arguello. They are now no longer on friendly terms.
Dulce Gallegos was also charged in a related case. She will testify that she has pleaded guilty and that she has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. She will testify that the call center is located in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.
Noorul told the jury the call center doesn’t just take incoming calls and that Dulce Gallegos will testify to that. It makes outgoing calls too, to solicit business for lawyers. It is illegal for lawyers to solicit business via cold calls.
Part of Dulce’s responsibility was to place ads in Spanish language newspapers. They did some in English, but she will say none of those worked out. She will testify that the attorneys never approved the ads. They tracked which ads were doing the best through different 800 numbers.
According to Dulce Gallegos, Arguello did guarantee a number of clients to his attorney clients.
Noorul Hasan expounded to the jury that Hector Aldana will testify that in all the years he went to people’s homes to have packets signed, he hardly ever met anyone that had talked to a lawyer before he showed up with documents to sign. When he appeared, these people had not talked to the lawyer whose forms they were signing. Noorul expressed she will put an applicants’ attorney on the stand who will testify how, typically, a lawyer who represents injured workers operates.
Carlos Arguello owned a records subpoena company called Professional Documents Management. His partner-in-crime also involved in this scheme, Edgar Gonzales, was the owner of another records subpoena company, USA Photocopy. They moved into Jon Woods’ law office and provided employees to go through every file and find all the subpoenas they could issue for medical records, at the maximum number of locations. One name for this business was Scribewell, which was a back-office service ostensibly owned by an Enrique Villagomez.
DDA Noorul Hasan: So, who got paid? …the evidence will establish that the lawyers got paid. They got paid by the insurance carriers through the settlements. They took a percentage of the settlements.
The doctors got paid through the liens. Arguello got paid through his copy service company. And Gonzalez got paid through his copy service company.
The doctors and lawyers paid separately Arguello to get them clients.
Noorul wrapped it up by telling the jury the charges include a conspiracy to violate Labor Code Section 3215, which means to give or receive consideration as compensation or inducement for referring clients or patients for services under the workers’ compensation system. She spoke of the charges under Penal Code Section 549 and also Penal Code Section 550 (B) (3).
These court proceedings closed by 2 pm as the court house was closing early. Defense attorney Richard Wynn will deliver his opening statement next when court opens.
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