LOS ANGELES (CN) — A jury on Thursday found Julian Omidi, the man who with his mother and brother controlled the 1-800-GET-THIN network of companies that promoted and performed lap-band surgeries, guilty of orchestrating a fraud that cost insurers more than $250 million.
The federal jury found Omidi guilty of 28 counts of mail fraud, as well as additional counts of wire fraud, identity theft, conspiracy to commit money laundering and making false statement related health matters. Jurors also found one of the companies affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN business guilty but acquitted Mirali Zarrabi, a doctor who prosecutors accused of falsifying sleep studies to get patients preapproved for lap-band surgery.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office argued at the almost three-month trial that Omidi was a micromanager who instructed others to falsify sleep studies to make it appear patients suffered from severe sleep apnea, which would help to justify their need for lap-band surgery. Omidi also instructed patients' weight and height to be altered so that it would appear that their body mass index was above a critical threshold.
The defense tried to shift the blame to a manager with Surgery Center Management, the corporate defendant in the case, who had struck a plea deal with the Justice Department and was the key government witness. The cooperating witness, they argued, was hoping to avoid prison time by implicating Omidi and his company, they argued.
Lawyers for Omidi and Surgery Center Management didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the verdict.
Prosecutors argued Omidi, a physician whose license was revoked in 2009, established procedures requiring prospective lap-band surgery candidates to have at least one sleep study even if he knew their insurance wouldn't cover the surgery. The sleep studies were used to find a second reason, a so-called comorbidity, to justify the lap-band procedure for obese patients.
Zarrabi had been accused of approving boiler-plate diagnoses for the sleep studies. His lawyer argued that the studies were falsified only after Zarrabi had approved them.
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