Neurosurgeon accepted $3.3M in illegal payments to perform spine surgeries at hospital

Alan Condon -  

Neurosurgeon Lokesh Tantuwaya, MD, 55, on Sept. 1 pleaded guilty to accepting about $3.3 million in bribes for performing spine surgeries at the now-defunct Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.

From 2010 to 2013, Dr. Tantuwaya accepted money from Michael Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital, in exchange for him performing spine surgeries at the hospital, which violated the federal Anti-Kickback statute, according to the Justice Department. The bribe amount varied depending on the type of spine surgery.

Dr. Tantuwaya entered into contracts with Mr. Drobot and admitted in his plea agreement that he knew or deliberately was ignorant that the payments were being given to him in exchange for bringing spine surgeries to the hospital.

The surgeon also admitted to depositing bribe checks into his bank accounts, according to prosecutors. Dr. Tantuwaya said he knew receiving 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.

Dr. Tantuwaya faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison at his Dec. 9 hearing. 

Mr. Drobot is serving a five-year prison sentence for his scheme that paid physicians, chiropractors and marketers illegal kickbacks to refer workers' compensation patients to the hospital for spine surgeries. During its final five years, the scheme resulted in the submission of more than $500 million in medical bills for spine surgeries involving kickbacks, the Justice Department said.

Prosecutors said 23 defendants have been convicted for participating in the kickback scheme.

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