(CN) — A jury will soon decide whether two Southern California doctors are guilty of falsifying health reports to justify Lap-Band surgeries and other medical services provided by 1-800-GET-THIN and affiliated businesses in a scheme that defrauded insurance companies out of more than $250 million.
The doctors — Julian Omidi, who prosecutors says controlled 1-800-GET-THIN with his mother and brother, and Merali Zarrabi, a sleep specialist who worked for the company — could face decades in prison if found guilty on multiple charges of mail and wire fraud, as well as additional charges.
The U.S. Justice Department claims that Omidi was the “puppet master” who directed the scheme whereby sleep studies were falsified to both bill insurance companies at exuberant rates and to look for underlying health conditions to justify the pricey Lap-Band surgeries. Omidi also required that patients’ height or weight were altered to arrive at a critical body-mass index numbers that supported treatment.
“Ladies and gentleman, it was garbage in, garbage out,” Kristen Williams, a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles told the jurors in her closing statement Friday after an almost three-month trial. “This was an extraordinary broad fraud scheme.”
Omidi, of West Hollywood, and Zarrabi, of Beverly Hills, were arrested and charged in 2018. The government had previously seized more than $110 million from Omidi and other individuals and entities allegedly involved in the scheme.
According to the prosecution, Zarrabi allowed his e-signature to be used on sleep-study reports to give 1-800-GET-THIN’s sleep study program a “veneer of legitimacy” and to make it appear that he had reviewed and approved boilerplate diagnoses and treatment recommendations. Typically, patients were diagnosed with severe sleep apnea that required follow-up studies and treatment.
Thomas O’Brien, Zarrabi’s lawyer, said in his closing statement that the doctor’s reports were falsified by others after he had submitted them and that he had been set up as a fall guy by Charles Klasky, who was the manager of Surgery Center Management, a business also charged in the case, and who cut a plea agreement with the prosecution.
“Charles Klasky didn’t tell Dr. Zarrabi about the fraud,” O’Brien told the jurors. “He falsified the reports and used Dr. Zarrabi’s signature without his permission.”
Klasky’s lawyer, Bill Fleming, said in an email that his client was only a low-level manager and that it was absurd to suggest that he’s responsible for the crimes with which Omidi is charged.
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