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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The operators of seven alleged sham “pop-up'' medical clinics and a Glendale-based criminal defense attorney were among a dozen defendants arrested today on federal drug trafficking charges that accuse them of diverting at least 2 million prescription pills -- including oxycodone and other addictive narcotics -- to the streets.
Two indictments returned late last month by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles allege that members of the conspiracy profited from illicit prescriptions that were issued without any legitimate medical purpose through a series of clinics that periodically opened and closed in a “pop-up'' style. The alleged fraudulent prescriptions allowed the conspirators to obtain bulk quantities of prescription drugs that were sold on the street, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Those arrested include Minas Matosyan, an Encino man also known as “Maserati Mike,'' who is charged with leading the scheme and controlling six of the sham clinics. Matosyan allegedly hired corrupt doctors who allowed the conspirators to issue fraudulent prescriptions under their names in exchange for kickbacks.
“The two indictments charge 14 defendants who allegedly participated in an elaborate scheme they mistakenly hoped would conceal a high-volume drug trafficking operation,'' said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “In addition to generating illicit profits, this scheme helped drive the prescription drug epidemic that is causing so much harm across our nation.''
The indictments and search warrants describe how Matosyan would allegedly “rent out'' recruited doctors to sham clinics in exchange for kickbacks derived from proceeds generated when the other bogus clinics created fraudulent prescriptions or submitted fraudulent bills to health care programs.
In one example described in court documents, Matosyan allegedly provided a corrupt doctor to a clinic owner in exchange for $120,000. When the clinic failed to pay the money and suggested instead that Matosyan “take back'' the corrupt doctor, Matosyan demanded his money and said, “Doctors are like underwear to me. I don't take back used things,'' according to the document.
In a recorded conversation also described in court papers, Matosyan allegedly discussed how one doctor was paid “for sitting at home,'' while thousands of narcotic pills were prescribed in that physician's name and Medicare was billed more than $500,000 for purported patient care.
The conspirators also allegedly stole the identities of doctors who refused to participate in the scheme. In an intercepted telephone conversation described in court documents, Matosyan allegedly offered a doctor a deal to “sit home making $20,000 a month doing nothing.''
When the doctor refused the offer, the conspirators nevertheless created prescription pads in the doctor's name and allegedly began selling fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone without the doctor's knowledge or consent. According to court documents, the conspirators also issued prescriptions and submitted bogus billings in the name of a doctor who at the time was hospitalized and later died.
“For the sake of mere profit, the operators of these medical clinics spewed deadly prescription drugs onto our streets,'' said Christian J. Schrank, special agent in charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The opioid epidemic gripping this country is well documented and our communities in the Los Angeles area have been impacted,'' he said. “Too often those ill-gotten gains came at the expense of innocent Americans.''
The indictment also charges Matosyan and others -- including defense attorney Fred Minassian -- with obstruction of justice for allegedly creating fraudulent medical records in an effort to deter the investigation.
After a load of Vicodin was seized from one of the conspiracy's major customers, Matosyan allegedly oversaw the creation of fake medical paperwork in an effort to make it appear the drugs had been legitimately prescribed. The indictment describes intercepted conversations in which the lawyer allegedly strategized on how to deceive law enforcement, which included a plan to bribe a doctor to lie to authorities.
A woman who answered the telephone at Minassian's office said nobody was immediately available to comment on the allegations against the lawyer.
The 12 defendants arrested Thursday are:
-- Matosyan, 36, of Encino, who is accused of leading the scheme by recruiting corrupt doctors, overseeing the theft of other doctors' identities, and negotiating the sale of fraudulent prescriptions and narcotic pills;
-- Armen Simonyan, 52, of Burbank, who allegedly managed the operations at some of the fraudulent clinics;
-- Grisha Sayadyan, 66, of Burbank, who allegedly managed the operations at various clinics and sold oxycodone and Vicodin pills directly to black market customers;
-- Sabrina Guberman, 45, of Encino, who, while working at the sham clinics, allegedly lied to pharmacies seeking to verify the fraudulent narcotic prescriptions, which included creating and sending fake medical paperwork;
-- Frederick Manning Jr., 47, of Santa Ana, allegedly one of the major drug customers of the clinics, who is charged with agreeing to purchase as many as 1,000 pills per week of narcotics from Matosyan;
-- Minassian, 50, of Glendale, the attorney who allegedly spearheaded the scheme to lie to law enforcement by making it falsely appear that Vicodin seized from Frederick Manning Jr. had been legitimately prescribed by a doctor;
-- Ralph Manning, 49, of North Hills -- no relation to Frederick Manning Jr. -- who is charged with being one of the principal couriers Matosyan used to deliver fraudulent prescriptions and quantities of narcotic pills;
-- Hayk Matosyan, 30, of Granada Hills, Matosyan's brother, who allegedly filled fraudulent narcotic prescriptions at pharmacies and sold the resulting narcotics pills to black-market customers;
-- Marisa Montenegro, 54, of West Hills, who allegedly filled fraudulent prescriptions;
-- Elizabeth Gurumdzhyan, 25, of Hollywood, who allegedly filled fraudulent prescriptons;
-- Anait Guyumzhyan, 27, of Hollywood, who allegedly filled prescriptions for oxycodone and returned the drugs to Matosyan-operated clinics in exchange for cash payment; and
-- James Wilson, 54, of Venice, who alone is charged in the second indictment with illegally selling oxycodone prescriptions out of a Long Beach clinic that he controlled.
The dozen defendants were expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in Los Angeles federal court.
Authorities are continuing to seek two named defendants: Gary Henderson, 62, of Lancaster, who allegedly purchased fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions from Matosyan; and an unidentified conspirator known only by the name “Cindy.''
All of the defendants face significant terms in federal prison if they are convicted. For example, if convicted of the nine counts in which he is charged, Matosyan would face up to 165 years in prison, prosecutors noted.