AIDS doctor indicted in medical fraud

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

said.

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

said.

"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

treated.

"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

medication.

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

Germany.

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

comment.

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