Government agents are searching for a wealthy Southern California doctor turned fugitive who fled before an Orange County federal judge could sentence him to prison after fraudulently billing insurance companies $80 million in a five-year period for breast enhancements, tummy tucks and nose jobs.
Dr. David Morrow and his wife Linda sold their Beverly Hills estate for nearly $10 million, surrendered vehicles to their adult children, took out a $1,050,000 loan, emptied their bank accounts and fled on an unknown date, according to Juan Marquez, a special agent with the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service, which, along with the FBI and the California Department of Insurance, solved the financial scam in 2015.
Morrow, a dermatologist turned cosmetic surgeon who signed a guilty plea in February, sought a punishment of probation for five years plus two years of home detention. After all, according to his defense lawyer, the doctor is in poor health, has led “an exceptionally charitable, compassionate and community/family-centric life,” and “accepted responsibility” for his crimes.
But federal prosecutor Charles E. Pell believed the brazen criminal conduct deserved no leniency. Pell told U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton that the doctor, who owned The Morrow Institute Medical Group, Inc. based in the Inland Empire, performed unnecessary medical procedures—sometime not even bothering to get patients’ consent, signed other doctors’ names to files, recorded imaginary patient symptoms, falsified documents, violated patients’ privacy and left 10 patients with injuries, including disfigurement. From 2007 to 2011, Morrow submitted fake bills to insurance companies and failed to pay taxes on tens of millions of dollars in unreported income. According to court records, investigators believe the doctor caused loses of $42 million in the scam.
“In some cases, patients had body parts moved around without their knowledge or authorization, which has has resulted both in ongoing medical problems as well as disfiguring some patients,” Pell advised Staton, while requesting imposition of a 23-year prison term. “The defendant’s actions are egregious and, quite candidly, they are shameful.”
Earlier this month inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana while the 72-year-old doctor and his wife hid somewhere on the planet, Staton formally filed her sentencing decision: 20 years in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons plus a $50,000 fine. Staton also ordered a restitution hearing for Dec. 22.
Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson for the FBI in Los Angeles, told the Weekly there are outstanding arrest warrants for the couple, and that agents want anyone who knows of their whereabouts to contact the agency.
According to Eimiller, Morrow (a.k.a Dovid Meir Ben Devorah) is 5-foot-11, 190 pounds with gray hair and brown eyes.
His 65-year-old wife (a.k.a. Malka Lieba Bat Lima Ettle or Linda Jean Blake) is 5-foot-6, 126 pounds with blue eyes.
The couple has connections to Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs and Hawaii.
A doctor hired by the defense to win leniency for the defendant, who suffers from visual impairments, opined in 2016 that Morrow “was driven to commit the offenses” because of “overwhelming fear and anxiety” and “over identification with his patients.”
Staton received dozens of letters from the defendant’s family members, friends and medical colleagues who praised Morrow as an imperfect but honorable man.
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.