Indian-Origin Surgeon Accused of Charging $33 Million Illicit Payments, Pleads Guilty

Last Updated: September 02, 2022, 08:21 IST

In total, Indian-origin Surgeon Lokesh Tantuwaya received approximately USD3.3 million in illegal payments according to law enforcement officials. (Image: Tri-city Medical Centre)

According to his plea agreement and statements at Thursday’s change-of-plea hearing, from 2010 to 2013, Tantuwaya accepted money from Michael Drobot, who owned Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, in exchange for performing spinal surgeries at that hospital.

An Indian-American neurosurgeon has pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge of accepting approximately USD3.3 million in bribes for performing spinal surgeries at a now-defunct California medical facility. Lokesh Tantuwaya (55) of San Diego pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and to violate the federal Anti-Kickback statute.

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He has been in federal custody since May 2021 after he was found to have violated the terms of his pretrial release, said the Department of Justice. According to his plea agreement and statements at Thursday’s change-of-plea hearing, from 2010 to 2013, Tantuwaya accepted money from Michael Drobot, who owned Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, in exchange for performing spinal surgeries at that hospital. The bribe amount varied depending on the type of spinal surgery, federal prosecutors alleged.

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Pacific Hospital specialised in surgeries, especially spinal and orthopedic procedures. Drobot conspired with doctors, chiropractors and marketers to pay kickbacks and bribes in return for the referral of thousands of patients to Pacific Hospital for spinal surgeries and other medical services paid for primarily through the California workers’ compensation system, the Department of Justice alleged. During its final five years, the scheme resulted in the submission of more than USD500 million in medical bills for spine surgeries involving kickbacks, it alleged.

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Tantuwaya admitted that he knew the receipt of money in exchange for the referral of medical service was illegal and that he owed a fiduciary duty to his patients to not accept money in exchange for taking their surgeries to Pacific Hospital. In total, Tantuwaya received approximately USD3.3 million in illegal payments In April 2013, law enforcement searched Pacific Hospital, which was sold later that year, bringing the kickback scheme to an end. To date, 23 defendants have been convicted for participating in the kickback scheme, the Department of Justice said.

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