SAN DIEGO–Eight medical professionals and associates are charged in federal grand jury indictments with buying and selling patients in a bribery scheme involving $25 million in improper claims for medical services and devices which were then billed to California Workers’ Compensation insurance companies.
FBI agents along with investigators from the California Department of Insurance and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office served five search warrants and three seizure warrants Wednesday at locations in San Diego, Chula Vista, National City, Murietta and Los Angeles. Authorities arrested five people, including a radiologist, a chiropractor, a medical equipment provider, a medical clinic administrator and a so-called medical marketer. An attorney and a medical service provider were summoned to appear in federal court on Thursday. One indicted defendant, Gonzalo Paredes, remains a fugitive and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
The defendants, plus six corporations, are charged in three federal grand jury indictments unsealed today with conspiracy and honest services mail fraud. The indictments allege that these players either paid or received tens of thousands of dollars to buy or sell hundreds of patients, without the patients’ knowledge—therefore depriving those patients of their right to their doctors’ honest services.
“Today’s indictments are only the first wave of charges in what we believe is rampant corruption on the part of some physicians and chiropractors in their dealings with the health care system in general, and California’s Workers’ Compensation System in particular,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “A patient puts his trust, and his very life, into the hands of his physician. A doctor’s decisions should never, under any circumstances, be influenced by anything other than the patient’s best interest.”
“This criminal network bought and sold patients like cattle,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “They cashed in on people who trusted them with their health and they conspired to illegally game the system on a level that we’ve not seen before. But, the game is over.”
This is how the schemes worked:
Patients who said they were injured on the job filed a workers’ compensation claim with the state of California and sought treatment for their injury. In this round of indictments, the workers sought help from a chiropractor.
The chiropractors were the gateway to a wide-array of health care fraud. In these cases alone they prescribed medical equipment, referred the patients for MRIs and X-Rays, and ordered specialized treatments such as Shockwave therapy.
As alleged in one of the indictments, Los Angeles radiologist Ronald Grusd paid bribes to a San Diego chiropractor in exchange for patient referrals. The bribes were funneled to the chiropractor via Grusd’s corporation, Willows Consulting, a shell company. The checks were labeled “professional services,” but this was a sham.
In order to further hide the illegal kickbacks, checks were issued to intermediaries—defendants Alexander Martinez and his father, Ruben—through their front companies, “Line of Sight” and “Desert Blue Moon.” The Martinezes took their “cut” and then, in turn, paid off the chiropractor.
Grusd’s practice, California Imaging Network Medical Group, has clinics in San Diego, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Fresno, Rialto, Santa Ana, Studio City, Bakersfield, Calexico, East Los Angeles, Lancaster, Victorville and Visalia.
In another indictment, a second San Diego chiropractor, Dr. George Reese, with offices on El Cajon Boulevard, referred patients to a Los Angeles area medical service provider (controlled by attorney Lee Mathis and Fernando Valdes, president of Foremost Shockwave Solutions ) in return for bribes. The bribes were set by the conspirators at $100 per patient and paid through an intermediary. After taking a cut amounting to $25 per patient, the intermediary would pay the remaining $75 per patient to Reese.
Although disguised as “office rent” payments, the illegal bribes were paid in cash during clandestine exchanges in restaurants and parking lots. For example, $6,000 in cash was delivered to Reese in the parking lot of the Jolly Roger in Oceanside, hidden in a gift bag. Other times, it was passed in envelopes or stashed inside newspapers.
According to the indictment, Reese and his co-defendants generated and submitted bills to insurers totaling in the tens of millions of dollars. Most of these treatments involved the providing of “Shockwave therapy,” which uses low energy sound waves to initiate tissue repair. Proceeds from the insurance claims generated through this scheme were paid to Mathis and Valdes.
In the final indictment, a San Diego chiropractor referred patients to a licensed provider of durable medical equipment, Julian Garcia. In return Garcia paid the chiropractor $50 for each patient—in cash, to disguise the kickbacks. Garcia then improperly billed Workers Comp insurers millions for hot and cold packs for patients who had been secured by bribes.
“Today’s indictment show how the defendants in this case allowed greed and corruption to influence their patient care decisions and treated their patients as a commodity to be bought and sold,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Birnbaum.