A registered nurse who had cared for an AIDS patient who died at a Santa Monica hospital last week is accused of posing as the man’s physician to order medication that may have hastened his death, then stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the patient, police said Saturday.
The suspect, Hal Speers Rachman, 39, was arrested late Friday at his Venice apartment after police traced a fraudulent purchase to him. He was being held without bail.
Police said Rachman will be formally charged Wednesday with murder or attempted murder--depending on the results of an autopsy scheduled for today--and with grand theft, forgery and forgery with a credit card.
Police said Rachman had forged the dead man’s signature on at least one credit card receipt and several checks. “The suspect posed as the victim,” said Santa Monica Police Sgt. Russ Martin.
Edward Lebowitz, 48, an entertainment attorney, died Wednesday in St. John’s Hospital four days after receiving insulin prescribed by telephone by a man claiming to be his physician. Such verbal orders are permitted by state law, and the caller’s familiarity with the case did not arouse nurses’ suspicions until he began slipping into a coma. His real doctor has denied making the call.
“The person who placed the call was obviously very knowledgeable of our procedure,” Armen Markarian, a spokesman for the Santa Monica hospital, said Saturday. “We have tightened existing security and started new procedures.” He declined to elaborate.
Hospital officials say Lebowitz’s death was unrelated to the change in medication, but police said they are awaiting the finding of the Los Angeles County coroner on the precise cause of death.
Although Rachman was not on St. John’s nursing staff, he had worked there as a temporary nurse hired through a nursing registry, most recently on Aug. 22, Markarian said. On that day he was assigned to work in the recovery room, not with AIDS patients.
Lebowitz, who had been hospitalized several times before, was admitted to St. John’s on Sept. 17 for a digestive ailment related to his AIDS condition, police said.
“We don’t know how frequently he (Rachman) cared for the victim,” Martin said, “but it apparently started before his (Lebowitz’s) hospitalization.”
Police said Rachman was affiliated with the Health Folk, a Van Nuys-based nursing registry that provides home care for people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, an incurable condition that weakens the body’s ability to resist infections and cancers.
It could not be determined Saturday whether Lebowitz had ever hired Rachman through the Health Folk.
The owner of the agency, Nikko Ashton, said she would have no comment on Rachman’s employment history and hung up on a reporter. Several nursing registries, physicians who specialize in AIDS, representatives of the AIDS Project L.A. and the Los Angeles County official in charge of communicable diseases all said they were unfamiliar with Health Folk.
AIDS patients who need home nursing are usually referred to the Visiting Nurse Assn. or Progressive Nursing Services, according to Andy Weisser of the AIDS Project.
Police said they know little about the suspect, who has refused to make any statement. He is married and lives in Marina Towers, a high-rise security apartment building on Washington Street, under the name of V. Speer, police said. A woman who answered the buzzer refused to comment.
More is known about Lebowitz, an attorney with the William Morris Agency for 12 years. As vice president of motion picture business affairs for the theatrical agency, his job was to handle “difficult” production distribution agreements, according to agency spokesman Lee Salters.
A native of New York City and a graduate of Stanford University’s Law School, he lived alone in a Beverly Glen condominium. Police said interviews with friends and relatives indicated that he was “well-liked and didn’t seem to have any enemies.”
Staff writers Carol McGraw and Andrew C. Revkin contributed to this story.