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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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    Trial of Frank Patino on hold after court staff exposed to COVID-19

    Detroit — The chief federal judge in Detroit is in quarantine and one of the largest health care fraud trials in U.S. history is on hold after the jurist and two staffers were exposed to someone who contracted COVID-19.

    Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood halted the trial indefinitely Wednesday after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19, temporarily derailing the first criminal jury trial in federal court in Detroit since the start of the pandemic 17 months ago.

    The case involves allegations Dr. Frank Patino, an alligator-wrestling surgeon from Woodhaven, headed a $120 million health care fraud scheme, laundered money through a vanity diet program and spent money sponsoring mixed martial arts fighters. If convicted, Patino could be sentenced to more than 20 years in federal prison.

    Patino, 66, attended a Zoom hearing Wednesday during which the judge announced a staffer had exposed her and two others to COVID-19 and that they would quarantine for 10 days — potentially delaying the trail until Aug. 26. The judge does not believe any jurors were exposed to the coronavirus.

    “Dr. Patino has been waiting three years for his day in court, so it’s just more time,” his lawyer David Nacht said.

    Dr. Frank Patino's social media posts show him wrestling alligators, strolling on exotic beaches with his bikini-clad, younger wife and striking shirtless poses.

    The person who contracted COVID-19 was not identified but is a member of the judge’s staff who had been vaccinated.

    Patino, who contracted COVID-19 and pneumonia during his three years in jail while awaiting trial, appeared dramatically different during the Zoom hearing than in social media posts and promotional photographs for his self-styled “Patino Diet” that frequently showed him shirtless, flexing and posing next to bikini-clad women. On Wednesday, he looked thin and older, but was clothed in an orange Livingston County Jail jumpsuit.

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