LOS ANGELES (AP) — An orthopedic surgeon was charged as the ringleader in one of the state's biggest health fraud schemes that included unnecessary operations by an untrained assistant that scarred patients forever, according to indictments unsealed Tuesday.
Dr. Munir Uwaydah and 14 associates, including another doctor and a lawyer, bilked insurance companies out of $150 million in the scheme, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.
Nearly two dozen patients were told Uwaydah would perform surgery on them, only to have his physician's assistant — who had not attended medical school —operate once they were under anesthesia, according to the indictment. Uwaydah wasn't even present for the surgeries.
"All 21 patients sustained lasting scars and many required additional surgeries and suffered physical and psychological trauma as a result of their experience in Uwaydah's clinics," prosecutors said in a press release.
Uwaydah, 49, was arrested in Germany on the 57-count indictment and awaits extradition.
Eleven co-defendants appeared briefly in Los Angeles County Superior Court and had not guilty pleas entered on their behalf. They were held on bail as high as $21.5 million.
The case has a subplot involving Uwaydah's office assistant, who was acquitted two years ago of murder in the strangling of the doctor's ex-girlfriend, an aspiring model and actress.
Prosecutors had described Kelly Soo Park as a "female James Bond" who was hired to kill Juliana Redding because of a failed business deal between her father, an Arizona pharmacist, and Uwaydah. The doctor was never charged in the case and denied any involvement in the killing.
Park, who was in tears when she was acquitted of murder, wept as she appeared for her arraignment in the fraud scheme. She was held on $18.5 million bail.
The attorney who represented Park in the murder case stood by her again Tuesday. He said he was suspicious that there was an element of retribution from prosecutors bringing the case against her.
"In the previous case some of this was in the air," attorney George Buehler said outside court. "The DA wanted to bring that in. It wasn't admitted. I think they'll have a terribly hard time of tying her into fraud in this case."