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Ex-Fertility Clinic Official Returns to Chile : Scandal: Former business manager Cesar Negrete leaves Tustin for financial reasons, his lawyer says, leaving only one figure in the case.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former business manager for the UC Irvine fertility clinic whose Tustin home was raided by federal agents in connection with the university’s egg-stealing scandal has moved to Chile because he can’t make a living in the United States, his attorney said Monday.

The move by Cesar Negrete a few weeks ago means that three of the four targets in the Sept. 19 raids have left the country.

Dr. Ricardo H. Asch, the clinic’s former director who is now practicing in Mexico, left shortly after the raids on his home and office, and Dr. Jose P. Balmaceda returned to his native Chile more than two months ago. Both have sold their homes, causing some investigators to speculate they will not return.

Only Dr. Sergio C. Stone, their partner, remains in the United States.

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Officials with the U.S. attorney’s office could not be reached for comment Monday on whether the absence of Negrete, Asch and Balmaceda will affect their ongoing criminal investigation into the doctors’ practices. No charges have been filed against Negrete or the doctors, and extradition would not be possible without such charges.

Negrete notified federal officials of his plans to return to his homeland and is doing so only for economic reasons, said his lawyer, Robert Van Hoy.

“The stigma [of the raid] made it impossible for him to gain any kind of productive employment in the United States,” Van Hoy said.

The lawyer said he expected his client to return if he is charged with any criminal wrongdoing--although he emphasized his belief that Negrete has no criminal or civil liability in the scandal.

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The three doctors have been accused by the University of California of stealing the eggs and embryos of patients without their consent, insurance fraud, misappropriation of university funds and research misconduct at a UCI clinic and an affiliated clinic in Garden Grove. Federal investigators are looking into whether they engaged in mail fraud, smuggling of fertility drugs and tax evasion.

The three have denied any intentional wrongdoing.

On the day of the raids, Negrete was questioned for two hours by federal officials without an attorney present and was under “enormous pressure and stress,” Van Hoy said. Investigators removed boxes of materials from his Tustin home. At the time, Van Hoy confirmed that his client was a possible target in the criminal probe by federal, state and local agencies.

“I don’t think anything has changed since service of search warrants,” Van Hoy said Monday. “My anticipation is that if they served a search warrant, chances are they have more than a casual interest in him.”

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In court papers, UCI officials stated that Negrete had been seen removing records from the Orange clinic as the scandal came to light earlier this year.

Van Hoy declined to say whether Negrete had been assisting authorities in the investigation.

Trained in his native country as an oncology surgeon, Negrete is not licensed to practice in the United States. He came to the UCI clinic in Orange in the fall of 1993 to set up a computerized billing system, but he eventually took over management of all the clinics’ business operations, including management of patient files, said Debra Krahel, a former senior administrator and one of three whistle-blowers in the scandal.

He did not get along with clinic manager Marilyn Killane, another whistle-blower, who contended that he usurped her authority and intruded in the clinic’s day-to-day operations.

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