Hospital Administrator Arrested in Tenet Investigation
The message was left on Dr. Hamid Mani’s phone line shortly before 7 p.m. Friday.
“Please help me for God’s sake, so I don’t go to jail,” the caller pleaded. “Do whatever you can in your power that I don’t go to jail.”
The desperate call was made by Mina Nazaryan, an associate administrator at Tenet Healthcare Corp.'s Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego, according to a government complaint made public Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors allege that Nazaryan, 40, was trying to cover her tracks in a scheme that paid illegal kickbacks to medical clinics that funneled patients to Alvarado Hospital. The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego charged her Tuesday with one count each of obstruction of justice and tampering with witness testimony.
Nazaryan’s attorney, Jane Hahn, said her client was innocent. Nazaryan surrendered to authorities Tuesday and remained Wednesday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. A bail hearing was scheduled for today.
The arrest is the latest twist in a federal investigation into physician relocation payments by Alvarado. Such payments are intended to cover costs for doctors who move to areas where there is a shortage of physicians.
Santa Barbara-based Tenet, the nation’s second-largest hospital chain, said Wednesday that it expects Nazaryan to be added to a grand jury indictment that was returned in July against Alvarado’s administrator, Barry Weinbaum, the hospital and a related Tenet subsidiary. All of the parties have pleaded not guilty to charges of paying illegal kickbacks.
The indictment alleges that the hospital paid $10 million in relocation costs from 1992 to 2002.
Of that money, the new complaint says, $1.1 million went to three doctors affiliated with California Retina Associates, an eye-care practice operated by Dr. Hamid Mani and his sister, Dr. Nasrin Mani.
The Manis were served with subpoenas last month. The doctors told investigators that Nazaryan “had assisted them in obtaining the relocation agreements,” including one for their physician brother, Parvin, according to the complaint filed Tuesday.
Nazaryan demanded money in return for her help, the Manis told investigators. Nazaryan “made it clear that flowers and gifts were not enough,” according to the complaint, and warned her fellow immigrants that relocation payments “could stop at anytime.”
In all, the Manis said they paid Nazaryan about $80,000, including $53,300 in 18 checks between February 1998 and December 2002.
Nazaryan learned last month that the family had been contacted by investigators, according to the complaint, and in response, she showed up at their home with a suitcase laden with jewelry and silver plates, telling the Manis that they could say the checks were used to buy the items from her.
When the Manis refused, prosecutors allege, Nazaryan suggested that they tell authorities the checks to her were for the Persian rugs and paintings in their home. The Manis then indicated that they would go along with the ruse, but Nazaryan continued to contact the family.
On Friday evening, the complaint says, Nazaryan telephoned the Manis and again suggested that they tell authorities the checks to her were for the paintings. Twelve minutes later, Nazaryan left the plaintive message.
Hahn, Nazaryan’s lawyer, said her client was “stunned by the allegations made by the Manis.” Hahn added that Nazaryan has known the Manis since they all lived in Iran nearly two decades ago.
Tenet, which operates about 40 hospitals in the state, did not comment specifically about the new complaint. Previously, the company has said its corporate policy on relocation agreements “is entirely appropriate under the law.”
Tenet is the subject of several government investigations for its business practices, including the way it billed for certain Medicare reimbursements.
On Wednesday, its shares rose 18 cents to $14.88 on the New York Stock Exchange.