The key witness against a prominent South Portland dermatologist who was convicted of tax evasion in November wrote the doctor a letter after the trial, apologizing and suggesting she tried to undercut her own credibility during testimony.

The letter is contained in a motion filed by lawyers for Dr. Joel Sabean arguing for a new trial.

But prosecutors say that even if the witness did write the letter, there is nothing in it that recants any of her testimony during the trial.

The woman, a member of Sabean’s family who received more than $2 million from him over a five-year period, told jurors during the trial that Sabean had sexually abused her since she was a teenager. Prosecutors said Sabean made the payments to keep her quiet about the alleged abuse and also so they would continue to exchange explicit emails and photos. Sabean, who was not charged with sexual abuse, was convicted in U.S. District Court in November of evading nearly $900,000 in taxes by writing off the payments as medical expenses. He was also convicted of unlawful distribution of controlled substances for writing the woman a large number of prescriptions, and of health care fraud for making out some of the prescriptions in his wife’s name in order to get some of the cost covered by insurance.

In the six-page handwritten letter, which the woman apparently sought to deliver to Sabean via her therapist, the woman said she “made sure I said that I had trouble with lying my whole life,” a statement she made within minutes of being sworn in as a witness. The letter doesn’t explicitly say whether the woman lied on the witness stand, but does say, “I figured maybe you could use the fact that I was in jail against me. I thought it would be another mark against my character which would help.”

The letter, received by the woman’s South Portland psychiatrist more than a month after his conviction, was filed as evidence in his lawyers’ motion for a new trial.

The Portland Press Herald is not naming the woman because the newspaper does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent.

The woman wrote that she didn’t want to see Sabean to “get in trouble or go to jail! That is the last thing I want!” and explains that she is broke, has lost most of her possessions to eviction and repossession and is seeking to turn her life around. She also said she is seeing a psychiatrist after being jailed in Florida for violating probation for a shoplifting charge.

The woman repeatedly apologizes for testifying against Sabean and suggests that she was forced to take the stand.

“I wasn’t given a choice about being up there,” she wrote. “Since I had been arrested they subpeoned (sic) me and had the Feds come to get me. They transported me in shackles over a 20 day period to get me there.”

During the trial, Sabean’s lawyers attacked the woman’s credibility and sought to raise questions about whether he knew that she was lying about a myriad of medical problems and treatment claims, ranging from infections to a kidney transplant and a heart transplant over the course of a few years. Prosecutors said she and Sabean worked together to create false bills for the procedures, which he provided to bookkeepers and others in his South Portland practice who raised questions about the payments.

The bookkeepers feared the payments would bankrupt Sabean and decided he should write the expenses off his income taxes because he maintained they were payments for the woman’s medical treatments.

Sabean’s lawyers argued in seeking a new trial that the woman’s allegations of sexual abuse were “nothing more than an inflammatory distraction” in the case and should not have been admitted. They also argue that Sabean should have been tried separately for the improper prescription and health care fraud charges.

Prosecutors argued that providing a motive for the payments was a key to their case and that the tax evasion and other charges were part of a common scheme, meaning the cases should not have been severed.

In their reply filed Wednesday, prosecutors also said there are questions about the legitimacy of the unsigned letter. Even if it’s accepted as being written by the woman, “nowhere in the letter does she recant her testimony or state that she failed to tell the truth at trial.” It suggests only remorse about Sabean’s conviction, prosecutors said.

Sabean’s lawyers are expected to file an appeal of the verdict if U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal denies the motion for a new trial. Sabean is scheduled to be sentenced in March.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]