The identification of a man who was misidentified after dying of heart problems in a Glendale doctor's office has prompted the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to open a homicide investigation.
Authorities are attempting to establish the circumstances involved in the death of Ellis Henry Greene, and the false identification of his body as that of another man who had a $1-million life insurance policy.
The incident is believed to be part of an alleged insurance fraud scheme that officials are trying to unravel as they sort through new evidence of a drug-manufacturing lab found in the Glendale doctor's office.
"We have an investigation pending into three broad areas--homicide, insurance fraud and drug manufacturing," said Albert H. MacKenzie, a deputy district attorney.
Greene, 32, of North Hollywood was misidentified last April by Glendale internist and neurologist Dr. Richard P. Boggs as Melvin Eugene Hanson, 46, of Ohio. Boggs told authorities the dead man had been his patient for about six years.
Greene was also falsely identified by Hanson's business partner John Hawkins, 25, of Ohio. Hawkins is also Boggs' patient.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office released the body to Hawkins after receiving positive identification of the corpse from the two men and finding in Greene's wallet two credit cards and a photocopy of a birth certificate, all in Hanson's name.
Hawkins immediately ordered the corpse cremated and collected $1 million in life insurance.
Boggs has said that he did not purposely misidentify Greene, but had been duped for six years into believing that Greene was Hanson.
Authorities in Ohio and California have not been able to locate Hawkins or the real Hanson, whom they are seeking for questioning in the suspected insurance fraud scheme.
On Friday, California Department of Insurance investigators searched Boggs' home and office for about six hours.
MacKenzie said officers found that cocaine, methamphetamine and "possibly other illicit drugs" were being produced in Boggs' office. But authorities would only say that their investigation is continuing.
Ron Warthen, chief investigator of the department's fraud bureau, would not disclose what was taken during the search but he did say "a great deal" of potential evidence was seized. Affidavits supporting the search warrant are sealed to the public.
MacKenzie said the district attorney's office has been investigating the possibility of insurance fraud in the case since August. "As a result of the search warrant, we've also developed a drug investigation as well," he said.
Boggs' attorney was unavailable for comment Wednesday morning.
Warthen said his agency discovered the corpse's identity last Thursday by plugging its description into a U.S. Department of Justice computer file of missing persons. A comparison of fingerprints showed that the dead man was Greene. Final confirmation came from Greene's aunt, who identified a photograph of the dead man as her nephew, Warthen said.
"This is a major breakthrough," Warthen said. "We've been working for months on whose body this is."
Warthen said investigators were able to trace Greene's whereabouts until the last nine hours before he died in Boggs' office. Greene, a bookkeeper for a San Fernando Valley accountant, was last seen leaving the Bullet Club Bar in North Hollywood about 10 p.m. April 15. He died in Boggs' office about 7 a.m. April 16.
An initial report filed by the coroner's office last April attributed the death to an inflammation of the heart. Since discovery of the alleged fraud, coroner's officials have reopened the case and are running new tests on Greene's preserved blood and tissue samples, said coroner's spokeswoman Pat Smith. Those results are not yet available, Smith said.
Warthen said his office is seeking assistance from anyone who may have seen Greene on April 15 or 16. Witnesses said Greene left the Burbank Boulevard bar in a "highly inebriated state." Greene may have left in a cab to go to the Oak Lounge, also on Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood, Warthen said.
"We're hoping the public can help in tracking this young man's movement . . . before he was found dead in the doctor's office," Warthen said. "Those are critical hours, and we're trying to fill that gap."