Former doctor, company behind 1-800-GET-THIN found guilty of fraud
A former doctor was found guilty by a federal jury this week of fraudulently submitting roughly $355 million in insurance claims as part of the 1-800-GET-THIN network, a business federal prosecutors say involved falsified sleep studies to convince insurance companies to pre-approve the weight loss Lap-Band surgery.
The 1-800-GET-THIN billboards once dominated the Los Angeles landscape with claims of a one-hour procedure and an easy insurance verification process. But a federal jury on Thursday found that the business was a criminal scheme that bilked millions from insurance providers, including the Tricare healthcare program for military service members.
For the record:
9:41 a.m. Dec. 18, 2021After the three-month trial, the federal government filed a motion to begin the civil forfeiture of funds and other assets from Omidi and Surgery Center Management. A previous version said the government filed for legal fees.
Former doctor Julian Omidi, from West Hollywood, controlled several entities in the GET THIN network. Prosecutors say Omidi incentivized employees to make sure patients received sleep studies and then falsified the results to show that patients had obstructive sleep apnea.
Those results were then filed with insurance companies to pre-approve the Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries. The GET THIN business received approximately $41 million for those procedures, according to prosecutors. While not all patients were approved to receive the surgery, prosecutors say GET THIN would bill the patient roughly $15,000 for each sleep study, totaling $27 million in payments from insurance providers.
Omidi, 58, and his Beverly Hills-based company, Surgery Center Management, were found guilty of 28 counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Omidi was also found guilty of two counts of making false statements relating to healthcare matters, one count of aggravated identity theft and two counts of money laundering after a 48-day trial in downtown Los Angeles, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Omidi’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
A series of Los Angeles Times columns from 2010 to 2014 detailed how five patients died after they received Lap-Band surgeries at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN. During a 2009 inspection, the Department of Health and Human Services found unsanitary conditions, inoperative scrub sinks, one-time-only equipment being reused and several other deficiencies. The inspector shut down the clinic for a day, but further action was not taken at the time.
Omidi’s medical license was revoked in 2009, and he was arrested in 2018 along with medical doctor Mirali Zarrabi, 59. Zarrabi has been acquitted of all charges in the case, according to prosecutors.
The insurance victims in the case include Anthem Blue Cross, UnitedHealthCare, Aetna, Health Net, Operating Engineers Health and Welfare Trust Funds and others, including Tricare, healthcare for military service members, according to court documents. In 2014, federal agencies seized more than $110 million from the GET THIN network in securities and funds.
Omidi will be sentenced April 2022 and faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each of the mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering counts, along with a mandatory consecutive two-year sentence for aggravated identity theft, according to the federal government.
“A jury found that Mr. Omidi committed a massive fraud against public and private health insurers by falsifying sleep studies and other patient information for authorized payments for Lap-Band surgeries,” said Ciaran McEvoy, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, in a statement. “Our office is grateful for the jury’s service during this lengthy and hard-fought trial and we will continue to vigorously prosecute health care fraud wherever and whenever we find it.”
After the three-month trial, the federal government filed a motion to begin the civil forfeiture of funds and other assets from Omidi and Surgery Center Management.
The investigation into the GET THIN network involved the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and the California Department of Insurance along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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