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San Diego neurosurgeon admits accepting $3.3 million in kickbacks

The bribes, which Lokesh Tantuwaya accepted to perform surgeries at a Long Beach hospital, were part of a massive workers’ compensation fraud

A San Diego neurosurgeon pleaded guilty last week to accepting $3.3 million in bribes to perform spinal surgeries at a Long Beach hospital as part of a larger kickback scheme and workers’ compensation fraud.

Lokesh S. Tantuwaya, 55, pleaded guilty in federal court to a count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and violating the federal anti-kickback statute, according to his plea agreement.

Tantuwaya admitted in the document that he received millions in kickbacks between 2010 and 2013 from the owner of the now-defunct Pacific Hospital.

“Defendant knew that the receipt of money in exchange for the referral of medical services was unlawful,” the plea agreement reads. “Defendant knew or was deliberately ignorant that the payments were being given to defendant in exchange for bringing his patient surgeries to Pacific Hospital.”

According to the Los Angeles-area U.S. Attorney’s Office, 23 defendants have now been convicted of federal crimes in connection with the fraud, bribery and kickback scheme related to Pacific Hospital and its owner, Michael Drobot.

Prosecutors said the hospital specialized in spinal and orthopedic surgeries, and that Drobot conspired with doctors, chiropractors and marketers to pay kickbacks and bribes in return for the referrals of thousands of patients. Those medical services were 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,” prosecutors wrote in a news release.

Attorneys for Tantuwaya did not respond Friday to a request for comment. Tantuwaya, who has been in federal custody since May 2021 after violating terms of his pretrial release, faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 9.


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