Former Tustin Doctor Found Guilty of Fraud
Dr. Ivan Namihas, the former Tustin gynecologist who became the subject of the largest-ever 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 they had deadly diseases, such as cancer and AIDS, then used the mails 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 now faces up to six years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. He also faces up to $250,000 in fines.
But Namihas’ lawyer, Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa, said he will appeal the guilty verdicts on the grounds of jury misconduct. Meyer said a juror prejudiced the entire panel Monday by providing an account of an operation that a defense expert witness performed on the juror’s 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The remaining jurors voted unanimously to convict Namihas, whose license was revoked by the California Medical Board in 1992 after more than 160 former patients complained that he had sexually abused them.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.”
Scores of women had complained to the Medical Board that they had been fondled, masturbated or otherwise sexually abused by the doctor. One patient charged that Namihas raped her. Another accused him of deliberately withholding anesthesia while suturing her after a hysterectomy. Many accused Namihas of inappropriate sexual innuendo or of trying to kiss them.
Namihas, who now lives in Las Vegas, declined to contest the allegations, resulting in the Medical Board’s decision to revoke his license in May 1992.
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 had billed patients’ insurers for more than $10,000 worth of unnecessary laser surgery.
On Monday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jonathan Shapiro, who referred to Namihas during the trial 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 outcome of the trial.
“For all the men and women who had the misfortune of falling victim to this terrible man, this is their justice. He deserves no less. I hope we can all put this behind us and move on with our lives,” said Crumpler, of Newport Beach.
Five years ago, Namihas told Crumpler she was suffering from AIDS, without ever testing her for the disease. Tests later showed that the young woman, who is now 24, did not have the disease.
Another former patient, Charlene Cohan, 47, was also 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, testified at Namihas’ first trial that the doctor falsely diagnosed cervical cancer in his wife. Cohan testified that he was told by Namihas that he could have contracted penile cancer from his wife.
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.
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 both painful and expensive--in cases where patients’ tests results came back 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 would typically urge his patients to get second opinions, would offer them copies of medical records and, when he felt it was appropriate, discuss options to laser surgery for treatment.
But Namihas did not testify at his second trial.
The only witness called by the defense was Dr. Mark Rettenmaier. He testified that he found Namihas’ procedures appropriate.
In a bizarre twist Monday, a juror reported that he discovered only during the weekend that Rettenmaier had performed a hysterectomy on his wife months ago. The juror realized while reviewing the medical records that Rettenmaier had performed the surgery after his wife suffered a heart attack.
Meyer, the defense lawyer, said the juror should not have “poisoned the panel” by telling the entire group of his wife’s operation, which the juror reportedly claimed was unnecessary.
Meyer said he expects to ask for a new trial on Oct. 28, when his client is to be sentenced. Until then, Namihas remains free on bail.
The Namihas case drew attention to what some regard as the Medical Board’s dismal record in disciplining doctors in California.
A study released in March by the consumer watchdog group, Public Citizen, noted that California’s rate of doctor discipline ranked lower than that of 23 other states in 1994. California was criticized in the survey for taking three to four years to take disciplinary action against problem doctors.
The survey singled out Namihas’ case, noting that the first complaint against him had been made to the Medical Board in 1975.
Times staff writer H.G. Reza contributed to this report.
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