Collateral

Patients who say they are collateral damage in ‘Operation Spinal Cap’ move closer to justice – Orange County Register

In the past, Derika Moses held records in athletics. She was a force to be reckoned with on the softball field. But as she hoisted a case of soda onto a grocery store display in 2007, everything changed.

His back twisted. The pain was fierce. His best bet, he was eventually told, was spinal fusion surgery — a risky and invasive procedure that the Mayo Clinic says might be no more effective than non-surgical treatment for some types of headaches. back.

Wanting relief, Moses underwent surgery at Riverside Community Hospital in 2008, but the agony did not subside. She suffered painful complications and in 2013, when she couldn’t take it anymore, she opted to have the material removed from her spine, despite the inherent dangers of such a procedure, according to court documents.

Moses brought home a collection of screws and rods that had once been embedded in her bone, and didn’t give it much thought until news of Operation Spinal Cap broke the following year, her lawsuit claims. long delayed, which is finally continuing. in Riverside Superior Court.

An X-ray of Joshua Lash’s spinal material.

Fraud charges, not forgery

Operation Spinal Cap is a massive federal investigation into healthcare fraud that began in 2013 and is so massive it continues today. It froze more than 100 civil lawsuits like Moses’s because it targeted a decade-long criminal scheme that generated nearly $1 billion in fraudulent claims against federal and state governments as well as state and private insurers. The US Department of Justice said the scheme involved some $40 million in illegal kickbacks to doctors, chiropractors, marketers and other medical professionals.

The DOJ has racked up 23 convictions in the Spinal Cap operation so far, the latest of which is neurosurgeon Lokesh Tantuwaya, 55, of San Diego, who pleaded guilty Sept. 1 to accepting some 3.3 millions of dollars in bribes for performing spine surgeries in the present day. the former Pacific Hospital in Long Beach.

The first conviction was the hospital’s former owner, Michael Drobot of Corona del Mar, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and illegal bribery in 2014, admitting to orchestrating a massive fraud in which “thousands of patients have been operated on at Pacific Hospital without knowing that (Drobot) bribed their doctor to perform their operation at Pacific Hospital,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. Drobot “was driven by greed and ultimately profited millions of dollars from the scheme,” the memo states.

Then-state senator Ronald Calderon was also caught in the web trap. Drobot bribed Calderon in an effort to protect a now-repealed state law allowing hospitals to pass on the full cost of spine surgery implants to workers’ compensation insurers — a major source of cash for the program, prosecutors said.

Patients like Moses who underwent these surgeries — which may not have been necessary to begin with — were happy to see the fraud convictions, but deeply dismayed that the DOJ hadn’t, literally, dug deeper. The screws and rods implanted into their spines via these rebound surgeries weren’t always the real deal, say Moses and many others, but cheap counterfeits made in an unsanitary machine shop in Temecula, mixed with a genuine product then shipped nationwide.

Most of the hardware is still embedded in people’s bodies, making these claims extremely difficult to prove in criminal court. But Moses can hold those screws and rods in the palm of his hand.

Moses Superior Court Case
Moses Superior Court Case

More delays

A federal judge has said that because of the complexity of restitution for patient victims, civil lawsuits may be a more appropriate remedy than criminal lawsuits.

And there has been a flood of civil lawsuits against doctors and hospitals in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties – many against hospitals and doctors not criminally charged in Operation Spinal Cap.

All of these lawsuits, however, had to wait for the end of the DOJ’s criminal investigation before being heard so as not to jeopardize the investigation.

That time has finally come. Kind of.

The Moses case, originally filed in 2014, is considered an “indicator” or test trial. Dozens of patients with pending lawsuits anxiously watch his every twist. The delays over the alleged juror contempt are frustrating people like Joshua Lash, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who said he was persuaded to have spinal surgery and was at agony since. He lost his career at 41 and attributes it to greed.

Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Joshua Lash shows an X-ray taken after his spinal fusion surgery with what may be counterfeit material at his home in San Bernardino on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda , The Press- Enterprise/SCNG)
Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Lash shows an X-ray taken after his spinal fusion surgery with what may be counterfeit material at his home in San Bernardino in 2019. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press -Enterprise/SCNG)

“Unfortunately, as I lay in pain, disabled and without medical insurance, once again we receive another legal blow to protect the greedy,” he said via email of the fight in courtroom regarding the jurors in the Moses case. “It’s too bad that victims can’t have defense teams of adjunct law professors and the best ‘white-collar’ academics money can buy.”

A hearing on this is scheduled for October.

The doctors and hospitals targeted by the patient lawsuits deny any wrongdoing, including the knowing use of substandard products in surgeries. In court filings, Drobot said his companies have never purchased or used screws or spare parts for spine surgeries, and the lack of such charges in the federal investigation proves it. .

A whistleblower lawyer who alerted authorities to the scandal disagreed. It’s easier to sue doctors for bribes than to prove counterfeit material is inside people, attorney Justin Berger said.

“I hope we will soon see justice for the victims,” he said.

  • Graphic of alleged Derika Moses trial scheme

    Graphic of alleged Derika Moses trial scheme

  • Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court

    Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court

  • Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court

    Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court

  • Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court

    Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court

  • Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court

    Derika Moses case in Los Angeles Superior Court