Jury can hear evidence of counterfeit check in former Daphne doctor’s suitcase, judge rules

Defense had argued that search of suitcase at Pensacola International Airport was illegal
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 7:01 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A federal judge on Thursday handed a victory to prosecutors in a case against a former Baldwin County doctor accused of failing to pay restitution in a health care fraud case.

Chief U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Beaverstock ruled prosecutors, at Rassan Tarabein’s upcoming trial, can introduce into evidence a counterfeit check seized from his luggage as he was attempting to leave the country in April.

Rassan Tarabein pleaded guilty in the fraud case in 2017, and a judge ordered him to pay $15 million in restitution to the government.

Earlier this year, though, prosecutors alleged that Tarabein was failing to make good on the restitution requirement. And U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose agreed, ruling that his failure to pay was “willful.” She doubled his supervised release term and ordered him to pay $97,000 by the end of that term.

Prosecutors later obtained an indictment making similar allegations. They have indicated that intend to use the counterfeit check, made out to Tarabein, at his trial next week in U.S. District Court in Mobile.

Federal agents stopped Tarabein at Pensacola International Airport in April as he was about to board a plane in for Syria. Law enforcement officers searched a suitcase he checked in for the flight after a drug-sniffing dog alerted the presence of drugs.

Tarabein’s attorney argued the search was unlawful and maintained that authorities held the suitcase for an extended period of time in order to arrange a drug dog search as a “pretext.” Although the drug dog at the airport alerted to the bag, the lawyer argued, law enforcement officers did not find drugs or drug-related evidence.

The defense also argued that the affidavit supporting a Florida search warrant was not sufficient to establish probable cause to search the suitcase.

“The court does not agree with Mr. Tarabein,” Beaverstock wrote in an 11-page order.

The defense pointed to a legal precedent holding that Drug Enforcement Administration agents acted unlawfully when they seized luggage from a traveler who had landed at LaGuardia International Airport in New York. That case was different, Beaverstock wrote, because the traveler had the bags in his possession. Tarabein, on the other hand, already had checked his suitcase.

The judge quoted from an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case ruling that “airline travelers know that their checked bags are subject to routine searches such that (a traveler) cannot demonstrate that he had an expectation of privacy with respect to his checked suitcase.”

Beaverstock wrote that under federal regulations, all checked baggage is subject to search by the Transportation Security Administration.

“Moreover, by virtue of purchasing an international ticket and checking bags with the airline, Mr. Tarabein similarly consented to a search of his bag as a condition of the airline accepting it pursuant to American Airlines’ rules,” she wrote.

As for the argument that the affidavit filed by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office was insufficient, the judge ruled that a drug-trained canine alerting to the presence of drugs is enough for a valid search warrant.

Tarabein operated the Shore Neurology and Pain Center, a private clinic in Daphne where he offered services relating to neurology and pain management, such as spinal injections. He alter admitted that he ran an insurance scam in which he induced patients to visit his clinic so that he could bill health care benefit programs for medically unnecessary tests and procedures.

A judge sentenced him to five years in prison in 2018.

Updated on Sept. 19 to correct an error misidentifying the judge who ruled on the motion to suppress.

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