Three more doctors were federally charged with fraud for their part in a spinal surgery referral scheme ran by Michael Drobot, former CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, and current felon.
“These doctors,” stated US Attorney prosecuting the trio Joe McNally, “were essentially paid to steer surgeries to Pacific Hospital.”
Over a fifteen year period, Drobot’s scheme paid doctors and other medical professionals over $40 million in illegal kickbacks for referring their patients to receive risky spinal surgeries. As a result, more than $580 million worth of fraudulent bills were submitted to the California workers compensation system, and other healthcare agencies.
The doctors indicted on Thursday were: David Payne, orthopedic surgeon from Irvine; Jeffrey Gross, orthopedic surgeon from Dana Point; and Lokesh Tantuwaya, spinal surgeon from Rancho Santa Fe. The three received substantial sums for referring patients to risky spinal surgeries. According to the US Attorney’s office, Payne received $450,000, Gross received upwards of $622,000, and Tantuwaya received roughly $3.2 million.
Nine defendants, including Drobot, have already been convicted of participating in the Pacific Hospital scheme. A press release from the US Attorney’s office states, “if they were to be convicted of the charges in the indictments, Payne, Gross and Tantuwaya would face potential sentences of decades in federal prison.”
If the name Michael Drobot sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve written about him before. The Weekly’s own Matt Coker helped break the story about Drobot and his congressional cronies in 2014.
Drobot was the healthcare mogul who pleaded guilty in 2014 to orchestrating the largest fraud in California history. After he was caught, Drobot promptly snitched on 22 doctors and politicians  – including US Senator Ron Calderon and his own son Michael D. Drobot – in order to receive a reduced sentence.
The F.B.I. investigation into Drobot’s Pacific Hospital has already led to the conviction of roughly a dozen politicians, surgeons, and hospital executives for soliciting bribes to endorse sketchy spinal fusion surgeries which cost the state roughly $600 million.
Drobot bribed Sen. Calderon  with plane trips and expensive dinners to preserve the, “spinal pass through law,” which allowed his hospital to pass the cost of spinal surgery hardware onto insurance companies. Drobot owned the companies that produced the hardware and artificially inflated the cost of materials so that he could further increase his profits from the scheme. The real kicker in all this, Drobot was sued under the suspicion that some of the screws his company produced were faulty.
Drobot and Calderon’s scheme preyed heavily on low-income Latino workers who spoke little English. Prosecutors argued that the scheme drove up the cost of insurance in California, and needlessly endangered patients at Pacific hospital.
Senator Calderon is currently serving a 3 ½ years in prison, and Drobot was sentenced to five years on January 12, 2018.