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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Whistleblowers File Alarming Claim Against 1-800-Get Thin

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Two women who worked at medical centers affiliated with the 1-800-Get-Thin ad campaign claim the family behind the clinics contributed to the death of a patient and performed "medically unnecessary surgical procedures" to defraud insurance companies.

The two former surgical techs, Dyanne Deuel and Karla Osorio, are among 13 plaintiffs who sued 1-800-Get-Thin LLC, the Omidi family, and their chain of surgery centers, in Superior Court.

The plaintiffs make a number of alarming allegations, including that a member of the Omidi family covered up the death of a patient, Paula Rojeski.

They also claim that Omidi clinics routinely failed to sterilize surgical equipment and prepped patients for surgery in unsanitary rooms.

Five patients have died since 2009 after surgeries through 1-800-Get-Thin-affiliated clinics, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday.

The complaint states: "Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege that defendants, Kambiz Beniamia Omidi aka Julian Omidi his younger brother, Michael Omidi, M.D., and Cindy Omidi, their mother (hereinafter referred to as the 'Omidis') have created a huge, lucrative and criminal enterprise to solicit patients for Lap Band surgeries through their 1 800 Get Thin billboards, TV, radio and print ads using commission-based illegal aliens to staff their call center, who refer patients to one of the Omidis' outpatient surgery centers. Plaintiffs are further informed and believe that the Omidis, through their various shell corporations, then submit fraudulent billings to the patients' insurance companies for surgical procedures performed in the Omidis' unsanitary and substandard facilities. Plaintiffs are further informed that the Omidis instruct their surgeons and doctors to perform medically unnecessary surgical procedures such as liver biopsies, hiatal hernia repairs, hysterectomies, gall bladder removal, and bladder slings in order to increase the defendants' billings to the patients' insurance companies. In order to save costs and further increase their profit margin, the Omidis do not stock their surgery centers with the necessary medical equipment to properly sterilize surgical instruments, require the staff to 'recycle' surgical instruments which fall apart, and do not stock medications or equipment to deal with life-threatening medical emergencies should the surgical patient 'crash' during surgery. Further, the medical equipment and monitors at their surgical facilities are outdated, broken and frequently malfunction. The Omidis require their staff to perform medical procedures which they are not licensed or qualified to perform. These cost-cutting practices are designed to increase the Omidis' profit margin at the expense of the patients' safety. When patients have died or have had a life-threatening medical emergency occur during surgery, the plaintiffs are informed and believe that the Omidis have engaged in systematic and illegal cover ups to thwart investigations by public health authorities and law enforcement agencies by falsifying medical records, removing and hiding malfunctioning medical equipment and concealing information from regulators and law enforcement during their inspections to prevent these violations of the law from being discovered."

That is the first paragraph of the 34-page complaint, which contains 24 additional pages of attachments.

Deuel says she worked as a manager and surgical tech for the Omidis at their Beverly Hills Surgery Center, which is a defendant. Osorio was a surgical tech at the same facility. Deuel says she lost her job for complaining about conditions at the clinics; Osorio claims she was harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment.


Eleven Lap Band patients joined as plaintiffs against the Omidis, their chain of clinics, and companies the family allegedly controls.

They claim the Omidis billed their insurance companies for "free" seminars and unnecessary medical procedures, and charged hundreds of thousands of dollars for surgeries to correct their own mistakes.

According to the patients, 1-800-Get-Thin's CEO and attorney Robert Silverman and the Omidis "fictitious law firm," the Patient Advocacy Law Group, threatened legal action against insurance companies that refused to pay for the surgeries, often without the authority of the patients they purported to represent. Silverman and the Law Group also are named as defendants.

Deuel claims that Rojeski died last year because of her doctor's incompetence, and that Michael Omidi covered it up, failing to report the death to the medical board and the Food and Drug Administration.

The complaint states: "Plaintiff Deuel is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that on or about 6 September 8, 2012, patient Paula Rojeski underwent Lap Band surgery at the Omidis' Valley Surgical Center, located at 7320 Woodlake Avenue, West Hills, California. Ms. Rojeski's surgeon was Dr. Julius Gee and her anesthesiologist was Dr. Chau. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that Ms. Rojeski's case was started with the oxygen tank on Dr. Chau's anesthesia cart turned off. Therefore, at this point, Ms. Rojeski had been medicated, sedated, paralyzed and under anesthesia, breathing room air only for approximately 30 minutes without any oxygen delivery from the oxygen tank.

"Plaintiff Deuel is also informed and believes that shortly before Dr. Gee made the initial incision, Dr. Chau announced that he had no oxygen level registering on the oxygen tank on his anesthesia cart. The surgical tech asked Dr. Chau if he had turned on the valve to the oxygen tank on his cart, and when he looked, Dr. Chau discovered that the valve on the oxygen tank was in the off position. Dr. Chau then turned on the valve on the oxygen tank. Deuel is further informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that during the surgery, Dr. Chau stated that the blood pressure cuff hooked up to Ms. Rojeski was not working properly, because it registered a systolic blood pressure rate of only 70. The nurse then retrieved another blood pressure cuff and was instructed to leave both blood pressure cuffs on each of Ms. Rojeski's arms during surgery. The second blood pressure cuff gave a systolic blood pressure reading of 120. Dr. Chau chose to ignore the lower blood pressure reading on the first device and instead followed and charted the higher blood pressure reading on the second device. However, it was later discovered that the second device was faulty, and the correct systolic blood pressure of Ms. Rojeski was 70 during the operation (i.e., she was in distress or 'crashing').


"Plaintiff Deuel is further informed and believes, and thereon alleges that during the surgery, Dr. Gee stopped the surgery several times and asked Dr. Chau if everything was alright, because Ms. Rojeski began 'bucking' on the operating table and alarms on the monitors continued to go off. Dr. Chau responded by stating that the monitors were simply malfunctioning (which Deuel alleges is a common occurrence at all of the Omidis' surgery centers) and that everything was alright.

"Plaintiff Deuel is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that unbeknownst to Dr. Gee and the charge nurse at that time, Dr. Chau had modified the IV tube into Ms. Rojeski's arm with an unusual port connection, which caused the IV tube to come loose during surgery. As a result, the anesthesia, paralytic, sedation and IV fluids drained onto the ground below the operating table hidden by the surgical drape and the operation was performed on Ms. Rojeski without the benefit of these drugs. Dr. Gee completed the Lap Band procedure, and scrubbed out of the operating room, leaving Dr. Chau with Ms. Rojeski. Several minutes later, Dr. Chau calmly asked the charge nurse to have Dr. Gee return to the O.R. When Dr. Gee returned, Dr. Chau stated that something was wrong. Dr. Gee checked the patient, and then yelled, 'She doesn't have a pulse. Call 911' and he began administering CPR. When the Omidis staff called 911, they failed to provide critical information to the 911 dispatcher, including the fact that Ms. Rojeski had been down with no pulse and not breathing for more than 15 minutes. Ms. Rojeski was transported by paramedics to West Hills Hospital, where she was pronounced dead." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Neither Chau nor Gee is named as a defendant.

Deuel states that Michael Omidi had all the defective equipment used during the surgery, as well as Rojeski's medical charts and files, removed from the clinic. She claims he told Chau "to falsify Ms. Rojeski's anesthesia record to delete the 15 minute gap between when the patient 'coded' and when Dr. Chau first told anyone about this critical event," according to the complaint.

"Deuel is informed and believes that at this meeting, Michael Omidi M.D. then handed the original anesthesia record for Ms. Rojeski back to Dr. Chau, and Dr. Chau altered and falsified Ms. Rojeski's record to delete the 15 minute gap. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that Ms. Rojeski's death was never reported by the defendants to the Medical Board or U.S. FDA as required by law."

According to the Deuel, roughly 3 days after Rojeski's death, another patient almost died at the Valley Surgical Center. She says that "critical event" also went unreported.


The former surgical techs claim that unsanitary conditions at the clinics increase the risk of infection to Lap Band patients.

The complaint states: "Plaintiffs Deuel and Osorio are informed and believe, and thereon allege that none of the Omidis' eight surgical centers follow standard aseptic techniques to clean their surgical instruments. For example, none of the Omidis' surgical centers has an autoclave, except the Beverly Hills Surgery Center. The rest of the Omidis' surgery centers use a magnaclave, which is much smaller and is not designed for sterilizing large surgical instruments. Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege, that at all eight of the Omidis' surgery centers, the routine practice is to stack surgical instrument trays on top of each other in the magnaclaves or autoclave, instead of the proper technique of placing the instruments in a vertical position so that all surfaces of the instruments can be sterilized. This improper technique routinely results in entire trays of surgical instruments remaining wet after removal from the magnaclaves, creating the risk of infection to patients. Further, the EOG scopes and lumens are not flushed between patients.

"Further, the surgical techs are instructed to 'prep from the floor,' meaning that the patients are prepped for surgery in a pre-op room standing up ('standing prep'), while the surgical techs scrub them with sponges. However, the surgical techs frequently open the sealed sterile sponge package and then place the package on the floor while they scrub the patient's body. This unsterile technique is known as 'prepping from the floor.' Patients are then forced to walk on the dirty floor to the operating room carrying their own IV bag instead of being transported into the OR by a hospital bed or gurney. This practice of forcing the patients to climb up onto the OR bed from the non-sterile floor breaks the sterile field on and around the OR bed. Additionally, the Omidis will not pay for proper surgical prep supplies. The surgical techs are given only gloves, and no gowns, to set up a sterile field in the OR before and between surgeries. The surgical techs are told to prep patients by using countable lap-sponges for body prep, instead of the proper surgical prep kits to remove transient flora and bacteria from the patients' skin before surgery. The surgical techs are further instructed to only use biocide wipes to clean the OR tables between surgeries, instead of proper aseptic technique which requires soaking the OR bed in biocide from a spray bottle and allowing the biocide to stand for 10 minutes before wiping down the OR bed. The floor is not cleaned between surgeries, and frequently there is blood, sutures, and body tissue left on the bed rails and bloody instruments left on the OR floor under the OR beds. Recent photos of this unsanitary condition below the OR bed in OR No. 2 at the Beverly Hills Surgery Center is attached hereto as Exhibit 'C.'

"Further, the biohazard room at the Beverly Hills Surgery Center doubles as a storage room where supplies for the OR are kept. This room has dried blood on the walls and on the floor and used syringe needles are discarded on the floor. A recent photo taken by the plaintiffs of this biohazard room is attached hereto as Exhibit 'D.'

"Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege that there is a very high incidence of post-operative infections at the Omidis' surgery centers, which requires frequent debridements of the patients to remove dead or infected tissue."

The complaint states that Dr. Ihsan Shamaan, the surgeon at the center of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Laura Faitro's family, testified late last year that at Julian Omidi's request he signed 600 form letters to insurance companies without examining patients.

Faitro died five days after Lap Band surgery at the Omidis' Valley Surgical Center, according to the complaint.

The present lawsuit also claims that the Omidis and their attorney Brian Oxman tried to pay Shamaan to make untrue claims that an attorney who had filed suit against the Omidis was guilty of ethical violations.

Oxman is named as a defendant in the new complaint; Shamaan is not.

The complaint claims that Shamaan "had never been represented by Oxman or any other attorney." It adds: "Specifically, at his December 20, 2011 deposition, Dr. Shamaan testified that both Omidi brothers dictated a declaration to Oxman, who typed the declaration on Michael Omidi's computer, stating that plaintiffs' attorneys, Robertson and Walker, had improperly communicated with Dr. Shamaan when they knew he was represented by Oxman, which would be an ethical violation if true. Shamaan testified that the Omidis, in the presence of their attorney Oxman, negotiated on how much of Shamaan's $80,000 unpaid salary they would pay him if Shamaan agreed to sign the false declaration. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that Dr. Shamaan testified as follows on this point:

"Q: Did they offer to pay you money for you to lie?

"A: Yes.

"Q: And ...

"A: And that money is my salaries.

"Q: And did they ever tell you that if you don't sign this and don't lie -

"A: They won't give me the money.

"Q: That's exactly what they told you?

"A: Exactly.

"Q: Who told you that?

"A: The Omidis.

"Q: Both Michael and Julian tell you that or one of the Omidi brothers?

"A: Both of them."

The 11 patient-plaintiffs seek damages for RICO violations, wire fraud, bribery of a witness, and other allegations; the former employees seek damages for health and safety and labor code violations.

They are represented by Alexander Robertson IV with Robertson & Associates of Westlake Village.

Defendants include Top Surgeons, New Life Surgery Center, De Vida USA, Beverly Hills Surgery Center, Valley Surgery Center, Almont Ambulatory Surgery Center, Antelope Valley Surgery Center, Lap Band Specialists, Surgery Center Management - all of them LLCS; California Hospital Management & Collections, Skin Cancer and Reconstructive Surgery Specialists of Beverly Hills, Skin Cancer and Reconstructive Surgery Specialists of Valencia, Robert Silverman Esq., Patient Advocacy Law Group, Brian Oxman Esq., and three other individuals.

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