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Doctor faces life in prison for alleged $150 million insurance scam

A California doctor and 14 of her associates have been charged in a $150 million insurance scam, one of the largest health fraud schemes in the state, that could find 11 of them sentenced to life in prison.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Munir Uwaydah was charged as ringleader of the fraud scheme, which included unnecessary operations by an untrained assistant that scarred patients forever, according to indictments from Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

Dr. Munir Uwaydah

Dr. Munir Uwaydah

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.

“Today, we put an end to the illegal activities of an organized criminal enterprise that was responsible for one of the largest insurance fraud scams in California’s history,” District Attorney Lacey said. “Although the patient victims sustained physical harm, we who pay higher premiums for health care suffer economic harm when scams are allowed to continue unchecked.”

She added that “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.”

Uwaydah, 49, was arrested in Germany on the 57-count indictment and awaits extradition.

Eleven co-defendants appeared briefly in Los Angeles 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 strangling 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, who is 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 case, which includes allegations spanning more than a decade, involves a conspiracy to pay attorneys and marketers up to $10,000 a month to illegally refer patients, including those with workers’ compensation claims, to the doctor and his related businesses.

In one indictment, Uwaydah, Park and nine others are charged with a single conspiracy count, 32 counts of insurance fraud, three counts of illegal client referrals and 18 counts of aggravated mayhem, which involve disabling or disfiguring someone. Uwaydah and the physician’s assistant, Peter Nelson, were also charged with three additional aggravated mayhem counts.

In a related 75-count indictment, Uwaydah’s lawyer and three others were charged with conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, money laundering, illegal patient referrals and filing false tax returns.

Uwaydah and the 11 defendants in the first indictment face up to life in prison if convicted.

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