Get the soap and water handy.There’s an excellent chance you’ll be disgusted enough after reading this to want a shower…….
I’m talking about the just unsealed Los Angeles County DA’s indictment of Dr. Munir Uwaydah and a number of alleged associates on multiple counts of alleged workers’ comp fraud.
Really it is a story of organized crime.
There are actually two indictments. I have a link to the indictment particulars in one of them at the end of this post.
Uwaydah’s office associate Kelly Soo Park beat a murder rap where she was alleged to have killed the daughter of a business partner of Uwaydah.
Dr. Uwaydah fled the country several years ago and was recently arrested in Germany. The murder trial and Uwaydah’s travels are novel-worthy drama itself.
But the unsealed indictment fills in rich detail about the alleged Uwaydah group’s scheme (which seems to have generally been under the name Frontline Medical Associates or Firstline Health, Inc. but which also involved an entity called Golden State Pharmaceuticals, one named U.S. Health and Orthopedics, and one called California MRI).
The indictment talks of money wired to Estonia and Lebanon.
Uwaydah is alleged to have done surgeries on patients who didn’t need surgery. His physician’s assistant is alleged to have performed some of the surgeries on patients, including ones where Uwaydah was not in the room.
To make matters worse, the indictment lists the names of at least two LA area attorneys, Daniel Hitzke and Dennis Fusi, as part of a capping scheme. The indictment alleges that Fusi and Hitzke were paid money for client referrals.
In fact, the indictment charges that “The agreement included bonuses for Hitzke for each client who would be a surgical candidate, with additional bonuses if the client had surgery.”
It should be noted that Hitzke and Fusi , though mentioned in the text of the indictment, do not appear to be targeted indicted indivduals in this particular unsealed indictment, which names Dr Uwaydah, Dr. David Johnson, and nine other individuals as indicted defendants.
Perhaps Fusi and Hitzke have their own story to tell, or perhaps they are already cooperating in the investigation. A grand jury apparently heard 102 individuals testify.
Back in 2011 around 200 law enforcement officers executed search warrants at medical and law offices. It’s not clear yet whether other attorneys will be swept up in these proceedings.
The particulars will play out. But step back for a moment……
Several years ago it came to light that a large number of patients in Long Beach and several other LA area locations had been subjected to spinal surgery with phony spinal hardware instrumentation. Litigation concerning those arrangements has entangled a large number of Southern California physicians.
And the phony hardware case is just one of several high profile matters which have demonstrated the extent of greed and avarice among providers in the LA basin.
Someday we will get a good handle on how this all came to be. Was it the lien culture? The tactic of “taking medical control” run amok? The lingering influence of the treating doctor presumption? The presence of a larger pool of physicians, attorneys, and marketers? An “anything goes” culture? The outsized role of marketeers? A depersonalized litigation culture at Southland WCAB district offices that were overburdened? A large population client base that trusted doctors and attorneys but could not communicate well due to language barriers?
How did we get the deep infestation of this culture? A culture where marketers figured out angles for attracting and trading worker patients for providers’ own gain?
These are not trivial questions. They may be uncomfortable for some who will read this only with concern for the “optics” of the situation.But it needs to be asked.
Many members of the applicant bar have become more and more disturbed about these trends as time went on. Yes, there was not enough done by the legitimate workers’ comp bar to change the culture.
And yes, there may always be some bad apples.
But these alleged schemes are so egregious and pervasive that in totality it can no longer be shrugged off.
Sure, it is not clear what the bar can do to police itself. Ideas, please……
Perhaps employers and the defense bar need to redouble their efforts. My understanding is that SCIF is devoting extra staffing to fighting some of the liens asserted in Southern California. I think Frontline Medical is involved in some of those lien disputes to this very day.
Uwaydah appears to have been quite bold, however. In 2010 the doctor pursued a losing battle against SCIF, suing SCIF for defamation and misuse of subpoenas after he earned that SCIF was investigating his being practices. Uwaydah lost.
The case is Uwaydah v. Roth. Apparently he thought the best defense is a good offense.
Clearly it is time that stakeholders look again at the capping statues, including how liens, advertising and “signing services” may play a role in what is best described as an epidemic of bad behavior.
Here is the LA County DA’s press release:
Here , from the Scribd. web site is the indictment (BA425397) (note that if it does not display properly for you then can Google “BA425397” to find the entire indictment on Scribd.