LA Doctor Pleads Not Guilty in Alleged Health Care Scam

January 12, 2006

A doctor has pleaded not guilty to charges of bilking insurance companies by arranging unneeded surgeries with the cooperation of patients.

Dr. Mamdouh Bahna, 58, who entered his plea in federal court, was taken into custody Jan. 1 at Los Angeles International Airport upon returning from Egypt, where he had fled after being indicted three months ago, Assistant U.S. Attorney Pegeen Rhyne said.

Bahna of Los Angeles and Dr. William W. Hampton, 50, of Cypress were named in an indictment, along with Bahna’s Bel Air Surgical Institute.

Prosecutors say Bahna hired workers to recruit people with health insurance to undergo unneeded surgery in exchange for cash or discounts on plastic surgeries. Payments allegedly ranged from $300 to $1,200 for such procedures as colonoscopies, sinus surgeries and an operation meant to stop palms from sweating.

According to the indictment, recruiters told the patients to describe false and exaggerated symptoms, which were then used to make the surgeries seem justified. Charges to insurance companies totaled at least $3.9 million, with $1.1 million paid out, Rhyne said.

Bahna’s lawyer, Terry Bird, said his client “returned to resolve the charges against him” and declined to comment further.

Held on $8 million bond, Bahna faces multiple counts of health care fraud as well as conspiring to commit health care fraud. A status conference was set for Feb. 13

Hampton worked at the Bel Air Surgical Institute in West Los Angeles intermittently in 2003 and early 2004, and also worked at other offices in the area.

The case grew out of a federal investigation of Southern California outpatient surgery centers that allegedly overbilled insurers for unnecessary surgeries.

Since the “rent-a-patient” scheme was first identified several years ago, insurers nationwide have been fraudulently billed hundreds of millions of dollars, experts say.

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