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Lap Band surgery center owners accused of identity theft and false medical billing scheme

A billboard for the Lap Band over the 210 freeway.
Corey Bridwell/KPCC
A billboard for the Lap Band over the 210 freeway.

Several doctors who once worked at the weight loss surgery centers affiliated with the 1-800-GET THIN campaign have filed a lawsuit today against the owners of the clinics, alleging that these doctors’ identities were stolen as part of an extensive false medical-billing scheme.

The lawsuit, filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accuses the brothers who own the surgery centers – Michael and Julian Omidi, their attorneys and several other defendants – of stealing the identities of four Los Angeles County doctors who worked for them - Steve Mandel, MD; Joel Popson, MD; Randy Taylor, MD and Arman Karapetyan, MD. The lawsuit claims that defendants used a portion of doctors’ names and medical identification numbers to create dummy corporations that engaged in fraudulent medical billing. Their allegations mirror a claim filed in February on behalf of Marina del Rey anesthesiologist, Martin E. Flynn, as part of a larger whistle blower complaint against the surgery centers.

"The doctors were unsuspecting of this until some of them started receiving 1099s in the mail from insurance companies for tax reporting purposes saying last year we paid you hundreds of thousands of dollars and the doctors said, that wasn’t me. I didn’t get the money," says Alex Robertson, the Westlake Village attorney who is representing the doctor plaintiffs in this case and Flynn through the whistle blower case. "So that launched the investigation and we obtained records from the Secretary of State's office, the (California) Medical Board and other agencies to uncover this scheme."

Chris Wahl, a spokesman for the surgery centers told KPCC that the Omidis haven’t yet had an opportunity to review the complaint, but called the allegations “patently false."

"We have documentation to prove this point," says Wahl. "And the important point to recognize is the surgery centers over the last several years have helped thousands of satisfied patients live happy and more active lifestyles."

Robertson, who has also filed two wrongful death actions and a whistleblower case against the Omidis’ surgery centers, claims the brothers paid their doctors about $200 per hour and then used the dummy corporations to bill insurance companies far more for the procedures. The suit alleges the Omidis created as many as 50 fake corporations with the Secretary of State’s office in one day last May—all with the same business address in Aliso Viejo.

"So we’re talking literally tens of thousands of checks that would come in every month and they would be made payable to 50-plus dummy corporate names then they would be picked up and deposited into an account that was controlled by the Omidis," Robertson says.

Robertson claims that, beyond the alleged theft of the doctors’ names and medical licensing information, the scheme violates several California Business and Professions Codes; California Corporations Codes, and, very likely, California and federal tax laws.

The surgery centers have also faced legal action stemming from the death of five patients who underwent the lap band weight loss procedures.

Identity Theft Complaint