An Orange County Superior Court judge today was considering whether to lift a freeze on the assets of 15 doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals indicted in a $25 million kickback scheme that allegedly led to the death of a 5-month-old boy in Los Angeles.
Indictments unsealed last week allege that Kareem Ahmed, a major donor to President Barack Obama, helped orchestrate a scheme to concoct a pain-relief cream and provide kickbacks to physicians and chiropractors to dispense it while also defrauding insurance companies.
Priscilla Lujan, a Long Beach patient who was given the cream, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County a year ago against one of the defendants, Dr. Andrew Jarminski. She alleged the cream came without standard warnings, which led her to expose the ointment to her infant son, who died after ingesting it while she used her fingers as a pacifier, according to Lujan's attorney, Shawn McCann.
The baby's death in February 2012 led to an involuntary manslaughter charge against Ahmed, Jarminski and pharmacist Michael Rudolph.
Ahmed's attorney, Richard Moss, called the manslaughter allegation "outrageous," and denied all the other claims in the indictment.
"There's no basis in law to support any criminal liability this case," Moss told City News Service.
Attorney Mark Werksman, who represents Dr. Arsalan Pourteymour, said the prosecution's allegations have been "spun out of thin air." Pourteymour had "nothing to do with billing," and just prescribed the cream, Werksman said.
Deputy District Attorney Shaddi Kamiabipour referred questions to Farrah Emami, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney's Office, who said she is legally prohibited from commenting on the case until the grand jury transcripts are made public.
Attorneys for the defendants are trying to convince Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to lift a temporary freezing of the assets of the 15 defendants.
Rudolph's attorney, Michael Nasatir, argued this morning that putting his client's business under a court-appointed receiver would damage the pharmacy.
"Why should a receiver be appointed?" Nasatir said. "Do you know how money they waste?"
McCann told City News Service that had his client known the dangers the cream posed for her son, she would have taken care to not expose the baby to it.
"It didn't have a proper label with instructions or any warnings," McCann said. "They didn't even take the time to write her name on the product. It says to be applied under supervision or the direction of a physician, but instead she was told it was like Icy Hot -- just apply it wherever it hurts -- and she was sent on her way."
Lujan "had no idea how strong and potent this medication was," McCann said. "Had she been warned or given proper instructions, she would have maybe not applied it while caring for her baby or she would have washed her hands thoroughly ... She certainly wouldn't have allowed her son to suck on her fingers with prescription medication on there."
The indictment alleges that Ahmed and three other defendants formulated the cream in 2009 and that Ahmed then had employees recruit doctors who treated workers' compensation patients to prescribe the medication. Rudolph, the owner of Tustin Community Pharmacy, allegedly manufactured the medication that was dispensed, according to the indictment.
Between mid-June and the end of 2012, Ahmed allegedly paid physicians $25 million to dispense the creams created by pharmacists with whom he contracted, according to the indictment.
Jarminski is accused of receiving about $1.9 million and Rudolph $1 million in kickbacks, according to the indictment.
--City News Service