LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fifteen doctors, pharmacists and others medical professionals in Southern California have been charged in a $25 million workers' compensation scam that prosecutors say was linked to the death of a baby.
Recently unsealed indictments allege that Kareem Ahmed, who heads the workers' compensation claims management firm Landmark Medical Management, hired pharmacists to produce a pain-relief cream, gave kickbacks to doctors and chiropractors to prescribe it, and also conspired to submit phony claims.
A coroner's report said a 5-month-old boy in Los Angeles County ate the cream and died. Ahmed, pharmacist Michael Rudolph and Dr. Andrew Jarminski have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. In addition, the parents of the baby are suing over his death.
Prosecutors also alleged insurance fraud and conspiracy in the 44-count indictment, with crimes occurring from Oct. 1, 2009, through Jan. 31, 2013. Kickbacks to individuals were as high as $8 million over multiple years, the indictment says.
Ahmed, a major campaign donor to President Barack Obama, is accused of paying doctors more than $25 million between June 2010 and December 2012 to dispense the creams manufactured by pharmacists Ahmed had contracts with.
The indictment says Jarminski was paid more than $1.9 million and Rudolph more than $1 million in kickbacks. Attorneys for Rudolph and Jarminski didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ahmed's attorney, Richard Moss, denies Ahmed did anything illegal and said he's confident his client will be exonerated.
Moss said the medications were lawfully prescribed by doctors, filled by licensed pharmacists, and compounded appropriately by licensed pharmacists. He said his client's company dealt with the claims to collect on the prescriptions.
Moss said the death of the child was a tragedy but it was "outrageous" to blame the doctor, pharmacist and the head of the company dealing with the workers' compensation insurance claims. Moss said he plans to challenge the legal sufficiency of the case.
"You can buy things that are inherently dangerous for human life in any store," Moss said. "You can buy rat poison. If it's misused, that should not create liability (because) Wal-Mart might have sold it."
The baby's parents are suing Jarminski, his assistant, medical group and pharmacy alleging negligence and that the cream wasn't properly prescribed and mother Priscilla Lujan wasn't adequately warned of the risks of the cream and how to apply it.
Lujan saw the doctor for back and knee pain in February 2012 and according to the lawsuit was provided a cream that the autopsy on the baby said included the antidepressant Amitriptyline, the cough suppressant Dextromethorphan and the pain reliever Tramadol. After applying it, she held her baby boy, let him suck her fingers to soothe him, and prepared a bottle for him, said her attorney Shawn McCann.
The next morning, the baby was found in bed unresponsive and tests showed he'd ingested lethal amounts of drugs in the cream. Lujan was initially arrested, McCann said, but the Los Angeles County district attorney's office didn't file charges because of insufficient evidence, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.
McCann said Lujan received medication with no warning, instructions or even her name on it.
"She's relying on the doctor to do the best for her," McCann said. "Turns out he was doing what was best for himself."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams .