Lauren Vane and Andrew Edwards
A Newport Coast doctor operating several Orange County clinics -- one
in Laguna Beach -- was indicted last week on a 29-count indictment
alleging that he conspired with a former assistant to under medicate
patients treated for AIDS, HIV and hepatitis.
The charges filed against doctor George Steven Kooshian, 54, and
Virgilio Lopez Opinion, 45, include conspiracy, healthcare fraud and
making false statements relating to healthcare matters. In a 2001
civil lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court, Opinion himself
alleged he was ordered by Kooshian to treat patients with saline
solution instead of prescription drugs.
Among several clinics in Long Beach and Garden Grove, Kooshian
also operated the Ocean View Internal Medicine clinic in the 1000
block of Glenneyre Street in Laguna.
Kooshian sold all four clinics under the names Valley View and
Ocean View to another doctor, Sue Lalla-Reddy, one year ago, said
clinic Public Relations Manager Shirley Joubeen.
The Ocean View and Valley View clinics have never been associated
with Kooshian under those namesakes, Joubeen said.
The clinic staff has not had a relationship with Kooshian since he
sold the practice, Joubeen said.
"Our practice is thriving and we've had no problems," Joubeen
Kooshian served for four years on the board of directors at Shanti
OC, a support-based organization for HIV and AIDS patients; he was
popular with patients, said Shanti OC Director Sarah Kasman.
"His patients, our clients, loved him," Kasman said. "He was very
attentive to their needs, he always went the extra mile for them."
Kooshian and Opinion have not been taken into custody, Assistant
U.S. Atty. Jeannie Joseph said. The pair are expected to be arraigned
in August at U.S. District Court in Santa Ana. The maximum penalty
for each of the 25 fraud counts is 10 years in federal prison.
Convictions for conspiracy and the three counts of making false
statements could each carry a five-year prison term.
The indictment alleges patients were mistreated between January
1995 and February 2001, claiming Kooshian instructed Opinion to
dilute medication with saline or water or to provide doses that
contained little or no medicine. A federal grand jury also charged
the pair with $1.2 million worth of fraudulent claims made to
Medicare and private insurers.
The fraud charges include allegations that patients were
improperly told to inject themselves with medicine, Joseph said.
Patients were told they were being treated with Epogen, Interferon
and Immunogammaglobulin, called IVIG. Epogen is used to treat anemia;
Interferon is for Kaposi's sarcoma; and IVIG is used to treat
peripheral neuropathy, a condition that can cause pain or numbness.
The indictment comes as a shock to the Shanti OC community, Kasman
"I am surprised and disappointed," Kasman said.
Although no Shanti OC clients have come forward as victims, Kasman
said that hundreds of Shanti OC clients have been patients of
Kooshian's at one time or another.
Bryan Noble, who lives in Long Beach, sought IVIG treatments
between August and October of 2000, according to a court filing.
Noble filed suit against Kooshian in 2001 in Orange County Superior
Court after he was contacted by Eric Lampel, an attorney representing
Opinion in his case against Kooshian.
Noble said Wednesday that he received four IVIG treatments at one
of Kooshian's Garden Grove clinics. During the first treatment, Noble
said Kooshian set up what he was told was an IV drip. Opinion
administered the other three treatments. A copy of Noble's filing
against Kooshian supplied by Lampel's office states Kooshian
prescribed Oxycontin and Percocet for Noble while he was being
"I was basically eating those, because what was supposed to be
helping me wasn't," Noble said.
After finding a new doctor, Noble said he no longer needed pain
Noble's civil case has been resolved, but he said he cannot make
any comment on the outcome.
"I am under kind of a gag order," Noble said.
Similarly, Lampel said he could not speak to the resolution of
Opinion's lawsuit against Kooshian. Lampel said he has not been
retained to defend Opinion in the criminal case.
Opinion, in Lampel's view, is a whistleblower who came forward
with allegations against Kooshian in 2001, after he was racked with
guilt. When Opinion sued Kooshian, the filing said Opinion had
anxiety, crying spells and was unable to sleep or eat. He quit
working for Kooshian in March 2001.
Lampel said he understood why Opinion is facing criminal charges,
though he is sad for his former client.
"He's simply following orders, and I know that gets into the whole
Nuremberg thing," Lampel said, referring to the defense offered by
Nazi officers in the post World War II war crimes trials held in
Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph said the government's evidence
indicates Kooshian initiated the alleged fraud and also shows Opinion
participated in illegal actions.
Kooshian is represented by Irvine lawyer William Kopeny, Joseph
said. A secretary at Kopeny's office said he was unavailable for