Afterglow: Attorney played pivotal role in acquittal of doctor

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Butzel attorney George Donnini has enjoyed his share of courtroom triumphs over the course of a 20-year career with the Detroit-based firm, but a recent victory in federal court may rank as one of his most satisfying particularly because of the stakes involved.

Donnini’s client, Monroe physician Dr. Lesly Pompy, was on trial for unlawful distribution of prescription drugs and health care fraud, part of a 39-count grand jury indictment issued in 2018 that charged him with pushing pills for profit, largely at the expense of taxpayers.

In short, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged that between 2012 and 2016, Pompy unlawfully distributed more than 6.2 million dosage units of Schedule II controlled substances outside the course of professional medical practice, thereby adding fuel to an opioid crisis in the community. Schedule II narcotics include such drugs as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.

During that time frame, Pompy also reportedly submitted claims to Medicare, Medicaid, and Blue Cross Blue Shield totaling nearly $17 million, according to federal law enforcement officials, who alleged that the majority of the claims were seeking reimbursement for the costs of office visits and other services that were not medically necessary and/or that Pompy never rendered.

The indictment stemmed from a police raid on Pompy’s offices and house in September 2016, executing search warrants originally obtained by the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office.

“The scale and the scope of the case was huge right from the beginning in terms of the materials that were seized and the publicity it generated,” said Donnini, noting that the raids attracted helicopter coverage from local TV stations. “He was facing criminal exposure where, if convicted, would have involved substantial prison time and the forfeiture of all of the doctor’s assets.”

The case eventually was turned over to federal investigative authorities, which included the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, raising the stakes even higher for Dr. Pompy.

“When federal agencies are involved in the investigation and then the prosecution, the case reaches a different level because of the resources and expertise they have at their disposal,” said Donnini. “The raids and subsequent indictment effectively shut down his practice, froze his assets, and deprived him of the ability to make a living while the case made its way through the trial process.”

That would take the better part of five years, due to delays caused by the pandemic and to the death in January 2022 of U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow, the federal jurist originally assigned to the case.

Despite the series of starts and stops, the case finally proceeded to trial this past November when approximately 30 witnesses were called to testify and lasted four weeks. The 12-person jury returned not guilty verdicts on all 34 felony counts against Pompy, while five other counts were dismissed during the course of the trial.

“This was a difficult and complex case, but through effective cross examination of the government’s witnesses and the presentation of our own defense case, we were able to give our client one of the best Christmas presents he could have ever hoped to receive in his life – a full acquittal,” Donnini said, praising the Butzel trial team of attorney Joseph Richotte, senior paralegal Victoria Murdoch, legal secretary Deb Lemanski, and paralegal/legal assistant Michelle Gillis. 

“Our depth and breadth of experience rises to the top each time. We are strategic and methodical in our approach. The hard work and dedication of the attorneys who worked on this case is what led to this fantastic result for the firm’s client,” added Donnini, whose co-counsel during the case was Ronald Chapman II of the Chapman Law Group.

A 1998 graduate of Duke University School of Law, Donnini serves as co-chair of Butzel’s White Collar Criminal Defense Group, which also includes David DuMouchel, Teresa Taylor, Joshua Chinsky, Damien DuMouchel, Theodore Eppel, and Derek Mullins.

After graduating from Duke, Donnini served as law clerk to U.S. District Judge William Pauley III in the Southern District of New York before beginning a four-year active-duty stint in the Marine Corps as a Judge Advocate.

“I had the privilege of serving as a United States Marine from 1999 to 2003 with 9/11 occurring right in the middle of it,” he said of his active-duty military service that was punctuated by the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history. “It was a great honor to serve my country, especially during such a difficult time.

“I spent a significant amount of my active-duty time as a criminal defense counsel and had the benefit of being thrown into the courtroom at a very early stage in my legal career,” he said.

Donnini’s breadth of experience as a trial attorney caught the eye of Butzel attorney David DuMouchel in 2003 when he was interviewing candidates for an opening with the Detroit law firm.

“He was exactly what we were looking for – someone from one of the elite law schools who had clerked for a federal judge and then had tried an awful lot of cases as a JAG,” said DuMouchel of Donnini. “He was a godsend for us, and quickly developed into one of the most effective, trusted, and respected criminal defense attorneys around. He has done it all for us over the years, and has been a great leader in our practice group, setting a terrific example for younger attorneys to follow.”

Based in Butzel’s Troy office, Donnini practices in the areas of white-collar criminal defense, SEC civil enforcement actions, antitrust investigations, and also periodically conducts corporate internal investigations. 

He has been involved in a number of high-profile auto industry cases, including unintended acceleration (Toyota), defective airbags (Takata), diesel emissions scandal (Volkswagen), and faulty ignition switches (General Motors).

“When someone’s liberty, future, and/or professional career are on the line, that person is in desperate need of somebody who will fight hard to protect their rights and legal interests,” said Donnini, who earned Phi Beta Kappa distinction while obtaining his bachelor’s degree from George Washington University. 

“I have a knack for quickly digesting information and getting to the bottom of the critical issues faced by my clients and helping them put their strongest position forward to obtain the best result possible under the circumstances.”

Donnini grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., a suburb of New York City. His late mother (Lynn) was a teacher, while his father (Jorge) was a handyman after immigrating to the U.S. from Argentina in the early 1970s.

“My parents instilled in me the importance of hard work and service, which was behind my decision to join the Marines,” said Donnini, one of the founding members of the Detroit Veterans Bar Association.

He also is on track to become president of the Federal Bar Association for the Eastern District of Michigan in a few months, currently serving as its president-elect after roles as program chair, secretary-treasurer, and vice president.

And yet, Donnini said he will never lose sight of his most important role – that as the proud father of three “amazing children,” ranging in age from 17 to 21. Alison, a Birmingham Seaholm grad, is a senior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she is majoring in accounting. His son, George, is a freshman at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, majoring in business. Donnini’s youngest child, Henry, is a junior at Birmingham Brother Rice, where he is a defensive tackle on the football team.

“It makes me so happy and gives me a great amount of pride to see my children growing up to be fine, upstanding young adults, but I must admit I would like to keep them young for just a little bit longer,” said Donnini. 

“My kids are my whole world and I would do anything for them and they, of course, know that.”

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