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Surgeon sought in $150-million fraud ring still at large, D.A. says

Attorney Benjamin N. Gluck addresses the court in Los Angeles on Sept. 25. Authorities said Oct. 6 that a surgeon accused of masterminding the scheme was still at large, despite an earlier announcement that he had been captured in Germany.

Attorney Benjamin N. Gluck addresses the court in Los Angeles on Sept. 25. Authorities said Oct. 6 that a surgeon accused of masterminding the scheme was still at large, despite an earlier announcement that he had been captured in Germany.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

For years, the whereabouts of Dr. Munir Uwaydah have been something of a mystery.

Los Angeles County prosecutors said they suspected the surgeon fled the country for Lebanon after one of his associates was arrested on a murder charge in 2010.

But the mystery appeared to have been solved last month when the L.A. County district attorney’s office announced that Uwaydah had been arrested in Germany on suspicion of masterminding a massive insurance fraud scheme and was awaiting extradition.

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On Tuesday, however, a district attorney’s spokeswoman backtracked, saying that Uwaydah remained at large.

“We were previously informed by the appropriate international authorities that he was in custody in Germany,” Jane Robison wrote in a short email to several reporters. “We were subsequently advised that he is not in custody.”

Robison did not provide an explanation, saying in the email that the statement would be the office’s only comment.

Indictments unsealed last month accuse Uwaydah, 49, of running one of California’s largest insurance fraud schemes. More than a dozen other people accused of taking part in the scheme are in custody.

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More than $150 million was fraudulently billed to insurance companies, the district attorney’s office alleged, saying those involved hid the money in shell bank accounts. Millions of dollars were transferred to accounts in Lebanon and Estonia, according to a bail motion filed by prosecutors.

According to grand jury testimony, the conspirators billed insurers for huge amounts of medication that patients never received. Prosecutors say kickbacks were paid to attorneys and go-betweens in exchange for illegal patient referrals.

The charges in the case are laid out in two indictments that allege conspiracy, insurance fraud, aggravated mayhem and “capping,” which entails illegal patient referrals, as well as other crimes.

Two years ago, jurors acquitted one of the other defendants in the case, Kelly Soo Park, of murdering 21-year-old Juliana Redding in her Santa Monica home in March 2008. Prosecutors have previously said that Uwaydah gave payments totaling six figures to Park and her family before the slaying and before Park’s arrest on the murder charge.

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Uwaydah, who wasn’t charged in Redding’s death and has denied any wrongdoing, fled when he became a person of interest in the murder case, according to prosecutors’ bail motion, which said authorities had considered the fraud as a possible motive for the killing.

During Park’s murder trial, a prosecutor told jurors that Redding was killed five days after her father broke off business negotiations with her ex-boyfriend, Uwaydah.

For more Southern California crime news, follow @lacrimes.

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