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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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1-800-GET-THIN fraud defendants pin blame on prosecution’s star witness

The government's key witness struck a plea deal with the Justice Department in 2017.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Lawyers for the two Southern California doctors accused of defrauding insurance companies out of more than $250 million through the 1-800-GET-THIN lap-band surgery network insisted the Justice Department's main cooperating witness is the mastermind behind the fraud.

The criminal trial in Los Angeles federal court will go to the jury Tuesday after almost three months of testimony. Julian Omidi, who with his mother and brother controlled 1-800-GET-THIN, and Miralli Zarrabi, a doctor who interpreted sleep studies that prosecutors say were falsified to get insurance pre-approval for lap-band surgeries and other treatment, could face decades in prison if they are found guilty of multiple counts of fraud.

"Julian Omidi and his family bought Klasky's lies hook, line and sinker," Omidi's lawyer Randall Jackson said in his closing statement Monday, referring to government witness Charles Klasky. "Charles Klasky ain't no puppet, he knew exactly what he was doing."

Randall painted a picture of a conman who lied to get a job he wasn't qualified for and then initiated a scheme to manipulate sleep studies that were used to qualify patients for lucrative lap-band surgeries. Klasky pleaded guilty in 2017 and has yet to be sentenced.

Zarrabi's attorney Tom O'Brien told jurors last week that Klasky may walk away without prison time depending on his cooperation with the prosecution, which would give him a strong motive to shift the blame for the fraud on the defendants in the trial.

Michael Devereux, an attorney for Surgical Center Management, a corporate affiliate of 1-800-GET-THIN and a defendant in the case, also put the blame on Klasky.

"Klasky is the reason we are here," Devereux told jurors Monday. "He was making one bad decision after another."

In an email, Klasky's lawyer Bill Fleming refuted the allegation that his client was the main culprit behind the scheme.

"The evidence is uncontroverted that Mr. Omidi owned and controlled the lucrative 1-800-GET-THIN entities, whereas Mr. Klasky was just a low-level manager," Fleming wrote.  "Any insinuation that Mr. Klasky is to blame for the offense with which Mr. Omidi is charged is absurd."

Federal prosecutors say Omidi was the "puppet master" behind the scheme and instructed others to rescore sleep studies so that the diagnosis would come back as severe sleep apnea, and to falsify patients' height or weight so that they would have a body mass index of at least 35 — criteria required by insurance companies to approve lap-band surgery.

Omidi would go manually through boxes of patients' charts and stick post-it notes on them saying what needed to be altered, according to Kristen Williams, a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

"Julian Omidi wasn't only controlling GET-THIN but he was also a micromanager," Williams told the jury last week. "He was involved in every aspect of GET-THIN."

This is a developing story.

Follow @edpettersson
Categories / Criminal, Health, Trials

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