Defense attorney David Bythewood insisted Monday that his client doesn't know who she really is, arguing that his client ought not to be prosecuted on fraud charges.
Bythewood knows his client as Elene Michel, but also as Valerie Brown or Yael Norman, and he said other distinct personalities could emerge and act at cross-purposes to each other, as he asked that she not be tried on grounds of mental incompetence.
"How can she get adequate representation of counsel?" Bythewood asked in federal court in Central Islip Monday. Michel is charged with operating a $26-million Medicaid fraud and violating the privacy of patients at nursing homes around Long Island by stealing their records.
To further complicate matters, the government indictment against Bythewood's clients says her real name is Helene Michel and she also has used the names of Dr. Elaine Allonce and Elene Allonce.
But federal prosecutor Charles Kelly replied that whatever name Bythewood's client uses, a government psychologist who examined her had found she clearly was capable of standing trial.
If Michel did have a multiple personality disorder, Kelly said steps could be taken to temporarily halt any trial and bring her back to her real personality, which the government in court papers says is Helene Michel.
Eric Pakun, a Harvard psychiatrist hired by Bythewood, testified Monday about his written report in which he said, "Ms. Michel is competent to stand trial. . . . However, it is likely that under the stress of a trial or testifying, she will, without being aware of this, experience transitions to her alternate identities for an uncertain duration."
Michel, of Old Brookville, and her former husband, Etienne Allonce, were indicted in 2007 on charges of running the Medicaid fraud through their then-Hicksville company, Medical Solutions Management, according to court records. The company supplied medical products and frequently billed Medicaid for its services, according to the court papers.
The violation of privacy charge is believed to be one of the first felony accusations brought under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is supposed to ensure the privacy of medical records, said officials.
Michel would enter nursing homes, usually on the late shift, and claim to be an official of a medical supply company that did business with the home, according to officials.
Michel would somehow convince workers on the late shift to allow her access to patients' records, and then steal a page or two. The stolen pages would give her enough to file a false reimbursement claim with Medicaid, the indictment said.
After the indictment and arrest of his then-wife, Allonce fled to the couple's native Haiti and remains a fugitive, according to court papers. Michel has been held without bail since, as a flight risk.