FBI looking for weight-loss doctor charged with fraud

Tribune reporter

Federal authorities are asking for the public's help in locating Gautam Gupta, a physician now wanted on fraud charges whose ads promising weight loss are well-known in the Chicago area.

An FBI complaint alleges that Gupta received almost $25 million over the last decade when he submitted claims to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois and Illinois Medicaid for services that were not medically necessary or, in some cases, were never performed.

The last known address for the 57-year-old Gupta was in the 1600 block of North Mulford Road in Rockford. He is of Indian descent and described as 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds with graying black hair sometimes worn in a pony tail.

According to the complaint, FBI agents and Illinois State Police used interviews with current and former employees and patients of Gupta to build the case against the doctor. The agencies also had undercover agents pose as patients.

Authorities allege that patients with insurance -- whether public or private -- were administered ultrasound exams of their thyroid glands and of their heart before they had been seen by Gupta.

"There would, therefore, be no way for the physician or assistant to determine if this patient had a condition, or symptoms of a condition, which would indicate an ultrasound test of any kind was needed," the FBI complaint states.

Those tests were billed to insurance, the FBI alleges. Patients without insurance were almost never given the ultrasound tests.

Patients were then given a week's supply of the appetite suppressant Phentermine or a diuretic and told to return for a follow-up appointment a week later, the complaint says.

Those follow-up visits were then billed to insurance as face-to-face visits with a doctor, even if no such interaction happened, according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges that Gupta employed women dressed in scrubs to appear to be nurses, but that no actual nurses worked at his clinics.

In January 2010, FBI agents executed search warrants at all five of Gupta's Nutrition Clinics, located in Chicago, Arlington Heights, South Beloit, Rockford and Naperville.

The doctor has been charged with one count each of mail fraud, health care fraud and conspiracy. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison.

Gupta is no stranger to controversy. 

In 1999, his controlled-substance licenses were placed on probation for one year "for failing to properly apprise female patients of the procedures required in heart and lung examinations, and not being aware of inventory and record-keeping requirements regarding dispensing of controlled substances," according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

In 2009 Gupta was judged to have traded on inside information related to the sale of Georgia-Pacific Corp. to Koch Industries Inc.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said the brother of a Georgia-Pacific board member illegally shared information on the deal with Gupta, who then bought more than $1 million of Georgia-Pacific shares and later sold them for $689,401 in profits.

As part of the judgment against him, Gupta was ordered to pay back profits, plus interest, and to pay an equal amount in penalties.

The FBI asked anyone with knowledge of Gupta's whereabouts to call 312-421-6700.

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