The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that a Redondo Beach woman accused of participating in a $150 million workers’ compensation insurance fraud scheme pleaded guilty,
Deputy District Attorney Kennes Ma said forty-year-old Marissa Nelson pleaded to one felony count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and admitted a special allegation of taking property of a value exceeding $3.2 million in case BA455469.
The sentencing hearing for Nelson is scheduled for July 27, 2018, one year from now. This will provide prosecutors one year to see how cooperative she might be with the continuing investigation before they recommend a sentence or argue what sentence might be appropriate.
Nelson is one of more than a dozen people associated with Frontline Medical Associates who were accused in 2015 of taking part in a $150-million scam that involved unnecessary surgeries by non-surgeons, doling out kickbacks for illegal patient referrals and fraudulently billing insurance companies.
But the Los Angeles Times reports that over the 18 months that followed, a judge dismissed most of the 132 counts laid out in two indictments. The most serious charges – for aggravated mayhem, carrying a potential life sentence – were dropped for a lack of evidence.
Recently prosecutors are taking a second stab at the case after acknowledging flaws in how they presented it to a grand jury. At their request, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy threw out pending charges in the two indictments against 13 defendants, except for two suspects who are fugitives.
Prosecutors immediately brought new charges against a dozen people, filing three separate criminal complaints listing 194 counts, including aggravated mayhem, money laundering, insurance fraud and unlawful patient referrals. An 82-year-old physician who was accused of overbilling insurance companies was not charged in the new complaint; prosecutors noted that he is suffering serious health issues.
Prosecutors allege that Dr. Munir Uwaydah, the orthopedic surgeon patients believed would conduct procedures, instead let a physician’s assistant perform surgeries. The scheme left nearly two dozen patients with lasting scars.
Uwaydah, the accused ringleader who prosecutors initially said had been captured in Germany, remains at large. They believe he is living in Lebanon.
Nelson was a personal assistant to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Munir Uwaydah. She is also the wife of co-defendant Peter Nelson, a physician’s assistant who never attended medical school and allegedly performed invasive and sometimes unnecessary surgeries. Her guilty plea may be a sign that prosecutors are now having some successful results, and her possible cooperation as a witness may prove to be the break they need to go forward with the remaining defendants.
Deputy District Attorneys Dayan Mathai, Catherine Chon, Karen Nishita and Kennes Ma are prosecuting the case.
The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation and the Organized Crime Division.