TAVARES — Dr. Akram Ismail, who was accused of hiring patients to kill, maim or sexually embarrass a professional rival avoided jail by pleading guilty to lesser crimes, but he still faces a fight to regain his state medical license.
Ismail, 53, a specialist in internal medicine with an office in Leesburg, received probation this month after pleading guilty to two counts of solicitation to commit criminal mischief — reduced from soliciting murder. He could have been sentenced to more than 60 years in prison on the original charges.
Ismail, on federal probation for disruptive behavior aboard an Orlando-bound plane in 2005, wanted to "destroy" Dr. Nehme Gabriel, a former medical associate who split from Ismail's medical group in 2006 and set up a competing practice in The Villages, according to public documents.
But the prosecution fell apart when a tape-recording of a meeting between the doctor and one of the alleged hit men turned out to be "mostly inaudible," despite the sheriff's efforts to enhance the quality of the audio, and two key witnesses against Ismail refused to answer crucial questions when placed under oath.
After initially cooperating with investigators, the witnesses, alleged "hit men" Michael Murphy and Steve Nuzzo, repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination during pretrial depositions.
Both were patients who claimed Ismail paid them to ruin Gabriel and his practice.
According to investigative reports, Ismail paid Murphy $40,000 to blow up Gabriel's practice, break Gabriel's legs or find women to file fictitious reports with the state Department of Health, claiming Gabriel had raped them.
The reports also say that when Murphy didn't follow through as promised, Ismail offered to pay Nuzzo, a patient of Sicilian descent who claimed to have mob ties in New York, to break Gabriel's right arm so he could not perform surgeries, burn down Gabriel's medical building and recover Ismail's $40,000 from Murphy.
Though the alleged hit men secretly recorded conversations with Ismail, both admitted they had intended to fleece the doctor or blackmail him into paying for their silence, Assistant State Attorney Sue Purdy said.
"Neither would have made a good witness for the state," Purdy said.
While Ismail believed that Gabriel was ruining his reputation in the medical community, the doctor's defense lawyer Rick Jancha, said portions of the secret tapes show Ismail did not ask the men to "hurt anyone." He said Ismail, who owns a surgery center, medical lab and a successful import-export business, was exploited by two men who tried to extract money from a doctor they viewed as "the goose who laid the golden egg."
Jancha said he thought Ismail has a good chance to regain his medical license.
Gabriel declined comment through a receptionist at his office.
Source: Orlando Sentinel