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UCI Hires Detective Agency to Help Find Clinic Victims : Scandal: Investigator will seek addresses from list of at least 60 former fertility patients so the university can contact them.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

UC Irvine attorneys have hired a private investigator to track down patients on the growing roster of possible victims in the UCI fertility scandal.

Cliff Petrovsky of Carlsbad was engaged Friday following media reports that eggs and embryos of at least 60 women may have been stolen and given to others at a UCI clinic and a former affiliate. That is nearly twice the number of victims estimated by UCI this summer.

The hiring also follows the revelation by UCI Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening last week that the university’s outside attorneys have had documents indicating the larger number of victims since October, but hadn’t realized it. The announcement led some critics to question the university’s commitment to finding possible victims.

But UCI officials said Tuesday that bringing in a detective agency is part of their ongoing effort to get to the bottom of the scandal, in which three fertility specialists are accused of misappropriating eggs or embryos. So far, despite the university’s attempts to contact some 30 patients, only three have showed up for appointments to discuss the possible misappropriation. More than a dozen have sued.

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“We wanted to do this some time ago,” UCI Vice Chancellor Sidney H. Golub said of hiring the detective. “But we asked the advice of federal authorities, and they asked us to hold off because they are conducting their criminal investigation. They didn’t want us tracking on the same ground.”

The U.S. attorney’s office is leading a criminal probe into whether the doctors engaged in egg-stealing, financial wrongdoing, mail fraud, fertility-drug smuggling and tax evasion. That investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.

University officials said Petrovsky will be paid $75 an hour, and his assistants will earn $55 an hour. There has been no cap set on the number of hours, and officials declined to estimate how long the work might take.

Petrovsky could not be reached late Tuesday but told a reporter in 1987 that his firm primarily investigates white-collar crime and fraud. He said his background is in business, although he employs former FBI and law enforcement agents. Golub stressed that the detective will not contact patients; he will simply try to find their current addresses. The university will make contact through registered letter.

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Golub said that two doctors on a UC clinical panel already are sorting through the 2 1/2 inches of documents uncovered last week, trying to identify which patients may have been donors or recipients of stolen eggs or embryos.

The documents are “all Xeroxes and some are difficult to read,” Golub said. “They are in no particular organization . . . and are hard to figure out,” and they must be compared to whatever patient records the university has.

Once that work is done, Golub said, the university will offer whatever information it has to the affected patients, answer any questions and provide counseling if desired.

Former patients who have questions about their experience at the clinics may call the UCI hot line at (714) 456-8906.

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