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Surgeon alleged ringleader in $150 million insurance scam

Munir Uwaydah

CBS LA

LOS ANGELES - An orthopedic surgeon is charged as the ringleader in one of California's biggest health fraud schemes, which included unnecessary operations by an untrained assistant that scarred patients forever, according to indictments unsealed Tuesday.

Dr. Munir Uwaydah and 14 associates, including another doctor and a lawyer, bilked insurance companies out of $150 million in the scheme, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. 48 Hours' Crimesider first reported the fraud indictment Tuesday.

Nearly two dozen patients were told Uwaydah would perform surgery on them, only to have his physician's assistant - who had not attended medical school - operate once they were under anesthesia, according to the indictment. Uwaydah allegedly wasn't present for the surgeries.

"All 21 patients sustained lasting scars and many required additional surgeries and suffered physical and psychological trauma as a result of their experience in Uwaydah's clinics," prosecutors said in a news release.

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Kelly Soo Park
"48 Hours"

Uwaydah, 49, was arrested in Germany on the 57-count indictment and awaits extradition, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney. However Los Angeles attorney Benjamin Gluck, who previously represented Uwaydah, and in court Tuesday represented Uwaydah's business partner Paul Turley, told Crimesider it's not true that Uwaydah was arrested.

The fraud indictment also names Uwaydah's business associate Kelly Soo Park, who was acquitted two years ago of strangling the doctor's ex-girlfriend, college student and aspiring model Juliana Redding.

During that case, prosecutors had described Park as a "female James Bond" who was hired to kill Uwaydah's former girlfriend Redding because of a failed business deal between Redding's father, who is an Arizona pharmacist, and Uwaydah. The doctor was never charged in the case and denied any involvement in the killing.

The new fraud indictment provides context to prosecutors' assertion before Park's 2013 murder trial that the victim's father, pharmacist Greg Redding, had been recruited to work for one of Uwaydah's medical schemes.

Prosecutors were not allowed to argue at trial that Park confronted the victim, Juliana Redding, at the behest of Uwaydah in an effort to intimidate her father to change his decision not to go through with their business deal.

"In the previous case some of this was in the air," Park's attorney George Buehler said outside court. "The DA wanted to bring that in. It wasn't admitted."

Buehler, who stood by Park's side again regarding the fraud charges, was skeptical of the new case, and suspicious of possible retaliation against his client. "I think they'll have a terribly hard time of tying her into fraud in this case," he said.

In court motions filed prior to the 2013 murder trial, Park's attorneys denied "that she or any of her business associates were involved in any fraud at all."

Tuesday, however, those accusations were front and center as two criminal grand jury indictments -- a 57-count indictment returned on Feb. 25 and a 75-count indictment returned on Aug. 26 -- were unsealed. District Attorney Lacey called the alleged scheme an "organized criminal enterprise that was responsible for one of the largest insurance fraud scams in California's history."

In one indictment, Uwaydah, Park and nine others are charged with a single conspiracy count, 32 counts of insurance fraud, three counts of illegal client referrals and 18 counts of aggravated mayhem, which involve disabling or disfiguring someone. Uwaydah and the physician's assistant, Peter Nelson, were also charged with three additional aggravated mayhem counts.

In the related 75-count indictment, Uwaydah's lawyer and three others were charged with conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, money laundering, illegal patient referrals and filing false tax returns.

Eleven co-defendants appeared briefly in Los Angeles Superior Court and had not guilty pleas entered on their behalf. They were held on bail as high as $21.5 million.

Park, who was in tears when she was acquitted of murder, wept as she appeared for her arraignment in the fraud scheme. She was held on $18.5 million bail.

In another development, the prosecutor who first presented the Redding murder case to the grand jury is now a defense lawyer and representing another defendant in the fraud scheme.

Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai said he will seek to have attorney Alan Jackson, who went into private practice after losing the race for district attorney, removed from the case because of a conflict of interest. Jackson refused to comment.

The case, which includes allegations spanning more than a decade, involves a conspiracy to pay attorneys and marketers up to $10,000 a month to illegally refer patients, including those with workers' compensation claims, to the doctor and his related businesses.

Uwaydah and the 11 defendants in the first indictment face up to life in prison if convicted.