Former Weight-Loss Doctor Faces Trial in Alleged Bogus Billing Scheme

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A former weight-loss doctor and a Beverly Hills physician face trial today for allegedly taking part in a $250 million bogus billing scheme involving 1-800-GET-THIN Lap-Band surgeries.

Julian Omidi, 53, of West Hollywood, and Mirali Zarrabi, 59, of Beverly Hills, are charged with multiple federal counts alleging mail and wire fraud, false statements, money laundering and aggravated identity theft stemming from GET THIN's Lap-Band surgery and sleep study programs between May 2010 and March 2016, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Surgery Center Management, a corporation controlled by Omidi, together with his brother and mother, is also named in the indictment. The Lap-Band is a silicone ring that is surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage overeating.

Prosecutors allege that patients were harmed as a result of the charged fraud scheme when they were subjected to unnecessary medical procedures, and insurance providers were harmed when they paid out tens of millions of dollars after receiving fraudulent bills.

Omidi, a physician whose license was revoked in 2009, controlled, in part, the GET THIN network of companies that focused on the promotion and performance of elective, Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries.

Omidi established procedures requiring prospective Lap-Band patients -- even those covered by insurance plans he knew would never cover Lap-Band surgery -- to have at least one sleep study, and employees were offered commissions to make sure the studies occurred, according to the indictment.

Zarrabi is a doctor whose license is still good, according to the state Medical Board website.

The purpose of the sleep studies was to find a second reason – such as sleep apnea -- that GET THIN would use to convince the patient's insurance company to pre-approve the Lap-Band procedure, federal prosecutors allege.

The U.S. Attorney's Office contends that after patients underwent sleep studies -- often with little indication that any doctor had ever determined the study was medically necessary -- GET THIN employees, allegedly acting at Omidi's direction, falsified the results to reflect that the patient had moderate or severe sleep apnea, and that they suffered from severe daytime sleepiness.

Omidi then caused those falsified sleep study reports to be used in support of GET THIN's pre-authorization requests for Lap-Band surgery, according to the indictment.

Relying on the false sleep studies, as well as other false information, including patients' heights and weights, insurance companies allegedly authorized payment for some of the proposed Lap-Band surgeries. The indictment alleges that GET THIN received at least $38 million for the Lap-Band procedures.

Even if the insurance company did not authorize the surgery, GET THIN still was able to submit bills for $15,000 for each sleep study, according to the indictment. The insurance payments were deposited into bank accounts associated with the GET THIN entities, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors said the health care benefit programs allegedly victimized by the billing scam include TriCare -- the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees, and their families around the world – and various private insurance companies.

If convicted as charged, Omidi and Zarrabi could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the mail fraud and wire fraud counts alleged in the indictment alone.

The trial in Los Angeles federal court could take as long as two or three months.

The government has almost four dozen witnesses it plans to call, including two cooperating defendants, court papers show. Omidi's lawyers provided a witness list of 96 people, including a deceased GET THIN patient, according to the prosecution's trial memorandum.

As part of their case, federal prosecutors allege that Zarrabi allowed his electronic signature to be used by GET THIN to make it appear that he had reviewed the falsified sleep studies, even though he knew the reports were being altered, according to the indictment. Zarrabi also allegedly demanded to be paid for the use of his electronic signature on hundreds of prescriptions for devices to treat sleep apnea.

Zarrabi and Omidi “victimized countless patients when they allegedly provided medically unnecessary treatment in order to boost their own profits to the tune of tens of millions of dollars,'' then-California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said at the time of the indictment.

“Medical provider fraud is multi-billion dollar problem that drives up health insurance premiums and creates a drain on our economy,'' he said.

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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