1-800-GET-THIN is sued by former workers
By Stuart Pfeifer
4:18 PM PST, January 17, 2012
Workers at weight-loss surgery centers affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign persuaded patients to have medically unnecessary surgeries and billed insurance companies for procedures that were never performed, a new lawsuit alleges.
Two women who formerly worked at surgery centers affiliated with the Lap-Band ad campaign claimed that surgery center executives covered up mistakes that contributed to the Sept. 8 death of Paula Rojeski, a Lap-Band patient from Orange County.
The new lawsuit seeks damages from eight people, including brothers Michael and Julian Omidi, who the lawsuit says run the weight-loss business from offices in Beverly Hills. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also seeks damages from 13 companies it says are controlled by the Omidis.
The Omidis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At least five patients have died since 2009 following Lap-Band procedures at clinics in Beverly Hills and West Hills that are affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing campaign, according to autopsy reports, lawsuits and other public records.
Manufactured by Irvine-based Allergan Inc., the Lap-Band is a ring that is surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage overeating. The 1-800-GET-THIN marketing company said in a court filing last year that it scheduled more than 10,000 Lap-Band surgeries in its first 15 months.
The lawsuit accuses the Omidis, their mother Cindy, three of their attorneys and two employees of violating the Racketeer Influenced or Corrupt Organizations Act, which Congress passed in 1970 as a tool against organized crime.
The lawsuit by former surgery center workers Dyanne Deuel and Karla Osorio accuses the defendants of running a “criminal enterprise” centered around a scheme to drive up revenues from the Lap-Band surgeries by billing insurers for procedures that were never performed and encouraging patients to have procedures they did not need.
Deuel and Osorio also accused the defendants of improperly sterilizing and reusing surgical instruments in an effort to reduce costs.
“What the slick advertising campaign doesn’t disclose are the horrific and gruesome conditions that our clients allege exist at these surgery centers and the fact that patient care is sacrificed for profit,” said Alexander Robertson, the Westlake Village attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Deuel and Osorio.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times