- Lokesh S. Tantuwaya, 55, received $3.3 million in illicit payments to perform spinal surgeries at a corrupt hospital in Long Beach, Calif.
Lokesh S. Tantuwaya, an Indian American neurosurgeon from San Diego, has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for accepting approximately $3.3 million in bribes for performing spinal surgeries at a now-defunct hospital in Long Beach, California, the Department of Justice said in a press release. The owner of the hospital, Michael Drobot, was also imprisoned for committing a massive workers’ compensation system scam, the press release said.
Tantuwaya, 55, pleaded guilty on Sept. 1 to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud and to receive illegal payments for health care referrals. He has been in federal custody since May 2021 after he was found to have violated the terms of his pretrial release.
Citing his plea agreement and statements at the change-of-plea hearing, the DOJ noted that from 2010 to 2013, Tantuwaya accepted money from Drobot in exchange for performing spinal surgeries there. The bribe amount varied depending on the type of spinal surgery.
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. He paid for them primarily through the California workers’ compensation system, the DoJ said. During its final five years, the scheme resulted in the submission of more than $500 million in medical bills for spine surgeries involving kickbacks.
In his plea agreement, Tantuwaya admitted that he knew or deliberately was ignorant that the payments were being given to him in exchange for bringing his patient surgeries to the hospital. He also confessed 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, the DoJ said.
The kickback scheme ended on April 13, 2013, the DoJ said, after which the hospital was sold. “To date, 23 defendants have been convicted for participating in the kickback scheme,” it added.