For years, it was hard to miss the billboards and radio jingles for a weight-loss surgery center that promised, “Let your new life begin, call 1-800-GET-THIN.”
But on Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged that the Lap-Band surgery operation was at the center of a massive fraud scheme that forced patients to undergo unnecessary tests, falsified medical tests to justify surgeries and cheated insurers and patients out of $250 million.
Julian Omidi, 49, of West Hollywood, and Mirali Zarrabi, 55, of Beverly Hills, were arrested pursuant to a federal indictment that alleges a host of criminal charges stemming from GET THIN’s Lap-Band (or bariatric) surgery and sleep study programs between May 2010 and March 2016.
Two corporations controlled, in part, by Omidi – Surgery Center Management, LLC (SCM), and Independent Medical Services, Inc. (IMS) – are also named in the 37-count superseding indictment that was unsealed this week.
The indictment contains charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, false statements, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.
Omidi, a physician whose license was revoked in 2009, controlled, in part, the GET THIN network of entities, including SCM and IMS, that focused on the promotion and performance of elective, Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries. Omidi established procedures requiring prospective Lap-Band patients – even those covered by insurance plans he knew would never cover Lap-Band surgery – to have at least one sleep study, and employees were incentivized with commissions to make sure the studies occurred, according to the indictment. The purpose of the sleep studies was to find a second reason – a “co-morbidity,” such as sleep apnea – that GET THIN would use to convince the patient’s insurance company to pre-approve the Lap-Band procedure.
After patients underwent sleep studies – often with little indication that any doctor had ever determined the study was medically necessary – GET THIN employees, acting at Omidi’s direction, allegedly often falsified the results to reflect that the patient had moderate or severe sleep apnea, and that they suffered from severe daytime sleepiness. Omidi then caused those falsified sleep study reports to be used in support of GET THIN’s pre-authorization requests for Lap-Band surgery.
Relying on the false sleep studies – as well as other false information, including patients’ heights and weights – insurance companies authorized payment for some of the proposed Lap-Band surgeries. The indictment alleges that GET THIN received at least $38 million for the Lap-Band procedures.
Even if the insurance company did not authorize the surgery, GET THIN still was able to submit bills for approximately $15,000 for each sleep study, receiving millions of dollars in payments for these claims, according to the indictment. The insurance payments were deposited into bank accounts associated with the GET THIN entities.
The victim health care benefit programs include TriCare, Anthem Blue Cross, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, Cigna and others.
In 2014, the government seized more than $110 million in funds and securities from accounts held by individuals and entities involved in the criminal scheme described in the indictment, including Omidi. The government is seeking forfeiture of some or all of those funds in the criminal case, and also intends to pursue civil forfeiture of some or all of the assets.