Indian American surgeon pleads guilty to taking $3.3 million in bribes

San Diego surgeon faces five years in federal prison for performing spinal surgeries at corrupt hospital

An Indian American neurosurgeon has pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge for accepting approximately $3.3 million in bribes for performing spinal surgeries at a corrupt Long Beach hospital.

Lokesh Tantuwaya, 55, of San Diego, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and to violate the federal Anti-Kickback statute, according to a Justice Department release.

Read: Indian American pleads guilty to $25 million Covid-relief fraud (March 25, 2021)

He has been in federal custody since May 2021 after he was found to have violated the terms of his pretrial release.

US District Judge Josephine L. Staton has scheduled a Dec 9 sentencing hearing, at which time Tantuwaya will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

Michael Drobot, owner of now-defunct Pacific Hospital in Long Beach was later imprisoned for committing a massive workers’ compensation system scam, Justice Department said.

According to Tantuwaya’s plea agreement and statements at Thursday’s change-of-plea hearing, from 2010 to 2013, he accepted money from Drobot in exchange for performing spinal surgeries at Pacific hospital. The bribe amount varied depending on the type of spinal surgery.

READ: Indian American engineer pleads guilty to $10 million covid-relief fraud (February 11, 2021)

Pacific Hospital specialized 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.

During its final five years, the scheme resulted in the submission of more than $500 million in medical bills for spine surgeries involving kickbacks.

Tantuwaya entered into contracts with Drobot and Drobot-owned companies. Tantuwaya admitted in his plea agreement that he knew or deliberately was ignorant that the payments were being given to him in exchange for bringing his patient surgeries to Pacific Hospital.

In furtherance of the scheme, Tantuwaya met with Drobot and Drobot’s employees. Tantuwaya further admitted to depositing bribe checks into his bank accounts.

Read: Indian-American surgeon pleads guilty to accepting $3.3 million in bribes (September 2, 2022)

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 $3.3 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, Justice Department said.

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