Southern California plastic surgeon extradited two years after fleeing with fake passports to Israel
A Southern California plastic surgeon who fled to Israel to avoid prison for mail fraud and other charges was extradited this week to Los Angeles, where a federal judge Friday ordered him to begin serving his 20-year sentence, authorities said.
David M. Morrow, 75, of Beverly Hills pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to commit mail fraud and filing a false tax return, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Prosecutors described Morrow, who owned the Morrow Institute in Rancho Mirage, as a greedy and dangerous man who subjected his patients to procedures they didn’t want or need, then billed insurance companies for millions of dollars in fraudulent claims. Morrow operated on some patients without their consent, prosecutors said, leaving them disfigured and suffering from severe complications.
Morrow invented diagnoses to bill insurers for cosmetic surgeries, according to the government: Nose jobs became “deviated septum repair surgeries,” breast augmentations were needed to treat “tuberous breast deformities,” and tummy tucks took care of “umbilical and ventral hernias,” prosecutors said in court documents.
After pleading guilty in March 2016, Morrow surrendered his passport, posted $5,000 bond and agreed not to travel outside the continental United States. Probation officers recommended he spend 51 months in prison.
Quietly, however, Morrow and his wife, Linda, were preparing to flee, a prosecutor wrote in a sentencing memo. They secretly transferred their Beverly Hills home to an LLC, which sold it for $9.45 million, Charles E. Pell, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in the memo. Morrow sold his Mercedes Benz to his children. He took out a $1-million loan against a San Jose property, emptied his wife’s bank account of its last $88,000 and transferred more than $4 million to bank accounts in Israel, held in the names of nominees, Pell wrote.
On May 26, 2017, Pell wrote, David and Linda Morrow flew, using Mexican passports bearing their photographs and other people’s names. They applied for Israeli citizenship using the fraudulent documents, Pell said. An agent with the Internal Revenue Service visited their Beverly Hills home six weeks later to find their mailbox “overflowing,” Pell said. Their attorneys had no knowledge of their whereabouts, and their phones were disconnected.
In September 2017, Judge Josephine L. Staton sentenced Morrow in absentia to 20 years in federal prison, calling him a man whose “greed knew no bounds.” His wife, who pleaded not guilty, was awaiting trial when she disappeared, charged with fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Israeli authorities arrested David and Linda Morrow last year. The couple had assumed new fake identities, using a new set of fake Guatemalan passports, Pell said. Israeli authorities deported Linda Morrow in July 2019. She faces an added charge of contempt of court, to which she pleaded not guilty. She is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, booking records show.
The Israeli justice minister signed David Morrow’s extradition order in December 2019, Pell wrote. He arrived at LAX late Thursday night, escorted by U.S. marshals. His attorney, Ben Lechman, said in a telephone interview “what happened when [Morrow] was gone was extremely unfair.”
In pleading guilty, Lechman said, Morrow agreed to a sentencing range of a few years in prison. After he fled, prosecutors asked for — and received — 20 years. “That’s a big swing,” Lechman said. “He’s a 75-year-old with health problems — that’s a death sentence.”
“Assuming everything in the plea agreement is true, it’s pretty much a garden-variety fraud,” Lechman said. “There’s a lot of money involved, but this is a guy who’s a doctor, who’s done a lot of good in his life. And he’s getting a death sentence.”
Lechman said he will fight the sentence, which Judge Staton ordered Morrow to begin serving immediately. “As far as the government’s concerned, this guy’s serving a 20-year sentence, period,” Lechman said. “We’re swimming upstream on this one, for sure.”
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