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Jury Convicts Gynecologist of Mail Fraud

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dr. Ivan Namihas, the former Tustin gynecologist who became the subject of the largest sexual abuse medical investigation in California history, was convicted Monday at his retrial on 15 counts of mail fraud.

Jurors deliberated for five hours before agreeing that the 63-year-old doctor duped nine patients into believing that they had deadly diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and then used the mail to bill them and their insurance companies for unnecessary laser surgery.

Namihas’ first trial ended in a mistrial in March 1995, with jurors split 10 to 2 in favor of conviction.

The former gynecologist faces up to six years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. He also faces up to $250,000 in fines.

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But Namihas’ lawyer, Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa, said he will appeal the verdicts on the grounds of jury misconduct. Meyer said a juror prejudiced the entire panel Monday by providing an account of an operation that an expert witness for the defense performed on his now-ailing wife.

U.S. District Judge Linda H. McLaughlin dismissed that juror from the panel Monday. She denied Meyer’s motion for a mistrial and instructed the 11 remaining jurors to disregard the dismissed juror’s statements.

The remaining jurors voted unanimously to convict Namihas, whose license was revoked by the California Medical Board in 1992 after more than 160 former patients complained that he had sexually abused them.

Medical board investigators said the Brazilian-born Namihas repeatedly used his “unique access as a gynecologist, to invade women’s most intimate areas of personal privacy, solely to carry out the most egregious . . . sexual exploitation for his own perverse sexual gratification.”

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Scores of women had complained to the medical board that they had been fondled, masturbated or otherwise sexually abused by the doctor. One patient said Namihas raped her. Another accused him of deliberately withholding anesthesia while suturing her after a hysterectomy. Many said Namihas made inappropriate sexual innuendoes or tried to kiss them.

Namihas, who now lives in Las Vegas, declined to contest the allegations, resulting in the medical board’s decision in May 1992 to strip him of his license.

State prosecutors did not press sexual assault charges against the doctor, saying that the one-year statute of limitations had expired in most of the cases and that they lacked corroborating evidence in others. But federal prosecutors charged him with violating mail fraud statutes.

After the first trial resulted in a hung jury, prosecutors issued an additional five counts of mail fraud against Namihas, alleging that he billed patients’ insurers for more than $10,000 worth of unnecessary laser surgery.

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On Monday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jonathan Shapiro, who during the trial referred to Namihas as “a crook in a white coat,” said the case resulted in “an important health care fraud conviction that reaffirms the principle that doctors must not lie to their patients.”

A former patient, Stacy Crumpler, who testified in both trials, said she was happy with the trial’s outcome.

“For all the men and women who had the misfortune of falling victim to this terrible man, this is their justice,” said Crumpler, of Newport Beach.

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Five years ago, Namihas told Crumpler that she was suffering from AIDS without ever testing her for the disease. Tests later showed that the woman, now 24, did not have the disease.

Another former patient, Charlene Cohan, 47, also said she was happy with the outcome.

“I’m glad he was convicted. It was a long time coming,” said the 47-year-old Cypress resident, who testified in the second trial.

Her husband, Louis Cohan, had testified at Namihas’ first trial that the doctor falsely diagnosed his wife as having cervical cancer. According to Louis Cohan’s testimony, he was told by Namihas that he could have contracted penile cancer from his wife.

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It was reported during the 1995 trial that later laboratory tests showed that Charlene Cohan did not have cancer. In addition, other doctors testified that a person cannot “catch” cancer from another person.

During the latest trial, experts testified that laser surgery was not the appropriate treatment for cancer. Some witnesses testified that Namihas performed laser surgery--which is considered painful and expensive--in cases where patients’ tests results were negative.

Namihas testified in his first trial that he never told his patients that they had cancer, but merely conditions that could lead to cancer. He said he typically would urge his patients to get second opinions, offer them copies of medical records, and when he felt it was appropriate, discuss other options besides laser surgery for treatment.

But Namihas did not testify at his second trial.

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The only witness called by the defense was Dr. Mark Rettenmaier. He testified that Namihas’ procedures were appropriate.

Times staff writer H.G. Reza contributed to this story.


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