Physical Therapist and Son Charged with Insurance Fraud

San Francisco Bay Area pair also charged with grand theft and practicing medicine without a license

A licensed physical therapist and her son, who holds no license, have been charged with felonies after allegedly receiving $4.5 million from insurance companies for false claims.

Paula Skinner, of Glen Ellen, and her son Matthew Skinner, of Pleasanton, have each been charged with 34 felony counts related to crimes that allegedly occurred at their South San Francisco businesses, Pacific Occupational Health Clinic and Action Therapeutics.

The pair will appear in San Mateo County Superior Court on September 29, 2017, to set a date for their upcoming preliminary hearing.

The Skinners have each been charged with 10 counts of preparing and filing false insurance claims, 10 counts of conspiring to make fraudulent insurance claims, 10 counts of grand theft, and four counts of practicing medicine without a license. Most of the charges include enhancements because the crimes were aggravated white collar crimes with excessive losses.

The criminal complaint filed by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office alleges that between 2010 and 2017 the Skinners committed crimes against Liberty Mutual, Traveler’s Insurance, Hartford Insurance, State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) and Intercare Insurance.

Since their arrests, more insurance carriers have come forward to report additional losses. It is alleged that the Skinners billed over $15 million and received payments of over $4.5 million.

The investigation found that the Skinners co-owned and operated Pacific Occupational Health Clinic as a medical corporation. Medical corporations must be majority-owned by physicians and laypersons cannot have any ownership.

The Skinners allegedly hired physicians to act as the medical directors of Pacific Occupational Health Clinic, but the Skinners continued to run the business, including hiring and firing the medical staff and making medical decisions for patients. Pacific Occupational Health Clinic specialized in treating injured workers and billing worker’s compensation health plans.

The Skinners also allegedly referred patients to their other business, Action Therapeutics, for unnecessary physical therapy and chiropractic care.

The charges are the result of an investigation conducted by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation (DOI), and the FBI.  Investigators from DOI’s Investigation and Enforcement Unit, DOI’s Enforcement Support Unit, DOI’s Health Quality Investigation Unit and Operation Safe Medicine worked with San Mateo County District Attorney inspectors over the course of several months.

Paula Skinner’s physical therapy license is currently inactive. The Physical Therapy Board of California is reviewing the case and will take disciplinary action against her license as appropriate.

Any insurance company that believes it was a victim of the Skinners is asked to contact San Mateo County District Attorney Inspector Steve Sysum at (650) 877-5446.


Unlicensed Body Sculpting Business Agrees to Pay $121K

The Orange County and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Offices have reached a civil settlement agreement with Sculptor Body Molding, Inc. and its owners Steven and Monica Ferguson on charges that they engaged in unlawful business practices and false and misleading advertising at their health clinics.

The filing of the civil complaint was the result of an investigation conducted by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation after it was discovered that the defendants were advertising to perform various medical procedures. One of the procedures was called SculptorBody which the company described as a weight-loss “lipo-sculpting” program.

The business advertised that the SculptorBody treatment provided weight loss and body sculpting through the use of various medical devices and cosmetic machines including laser and ultrasound treatments. Customers were asked to pay thousands of dollars for the treatments and were told the program was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and “Members of [the] Medical Board.” Sculptor Body Molding, Inc. operated five clinics in Huntington Park, North Hollywood, Santa Ana, West Covina and Riverside. The company advertised heavily to the Spanish-speaking community.

The Division of Investigation’s Health Quality Investigation Unit, Operation Safe Medicine, conducted undercover appointments at Sculptor Body Molding and investigators were offered medical services including ultrasound weight loss treatments, oxygen injections, and “fat molding.”

These services were offered by staff referred to as “therapists” rather than by a licensed medical doctor or other licensed medical professional as required by law.  None of the weight loss treatments or health advice provided at the business were supervised by a licensed physician and neither of the Fergusons is a licensed health care professional. The civil complaint noted that the advertising and performance of these medical procedures constituted the unlicensed practice of medicine and false and misleading advertising.

As part of the settlement agreement reached on May 19, 2017, the defendants will pay $106,000 in civil penalties that will go into a fund that supports future consumer protection actions by the District Attorney’s Office.  They will also pay $15,000 in restitution to the Medical Board of California for the costs of the investigation conducted by the Division of Investigation.

The settlement includes an injunction which prevents the Fergusons from operating any business in violation of the California Medical Practice Act and from any advertising that includes false or misleading statements to consumers. They are also required to immediately sell or dispose of all ultrasound machines and other medical devices that can only legally be used by or at the direction of a licensed medical professional.

Southern California Physician Sentenced After Pleading Guilty to Drug Trafficking

Former Glendale doctor was charged federally for distributing medications illegally

A federal judge ordered that former physician Manasseh Nwaigwe, of Glendale, will serve one month of home detention and two years of federal probation after pleading guilty to one federal drug trafficking charge.

Nwaigwe, 73, was sentenced on June 1, 2017. As part of the plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office, Nwaigwe pleaded guilty to illegally distributing hydrocodone and had to forfeit more than $97,000 that was earned from issuing illegal prescriptions. Nwaigwe also agreed to surrender his medical license.

During an investigation conducted in May and June 2015, Nwaigwe wrote prescriptions for hydrocodone, clonazepam and promethazine with codeine to five U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration undercover investigators in exchange for cash. The prescriptions were written even though the undercover officers had no medical need for the drugs.

On March 8, 2016, the Medical Board of California filed an accusation against Nwaigwe that included allegations of sexual misconduct, prescribing without an appropriate prior exam and gross negligence.  The plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office resulted in the surrender of Nwaigwe’s medical license on June 1, 2016, which resolved that accusation. Criminal charges were never filed in the case of alleged sexual misconduct.

Investigators from the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation, Health Quality Investigation Unit – Tustin Field Office assisted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Torrance Police Department and Redondo Beach Police Department with the investigation of Nwaigwe.

A copy of the Medical Board of California documents can be read HERE.

To view the March 2016 Medical Board news release, click HERE.

The United States Attorney’s Office press release can be read HERE.

Investigation Uncovers Unlicensed Physicians Operating Medical Clinic

Man and woman treated patients at a Los Angeles urgent care facility.

Charges were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last month against two unlicensed people accused of diagnosing and treating patients at an urgent care clinic in Los Angeles.

Betzabe Wintermute and Chendri (no first name) have each been charged with three felony counts of practicing medicine without a license following an undercover investigation. The investigation revealed the two had been treating patients and prescribing medications at WR Balboa Urgent Care, 937 South Alvarado St., #1D in Los Angeles, even though neither has any professional health care licenses.

Investigators from Operation Safe Medicine, in the Division of Investigation’s Health Quality Investigation Unit, worked with the Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT), within the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services to conduct a thorough investigation. HALT Investigators conducted undercover investigations that found both Wintermute and Chendri were diagnosing and treating patients. Chendri also prescribed medications to the undercover operatives.  Investigators from Operation Safe Medicine then assisted HALT Investigators in serving a search warrant at the business.

The investigation also showed that Wintermute, who owned WR Balboa Urgent Care, would hire licensed physicians on a temporary basis in order to obtain their medical license numbers and DEA numbers.  She would allegedly use that information to bill insurance companies and prescribe medications to patients without the physicians’ knowledge.

Investigators found that neither Chendri or Wintermute has ever held a professional license in California.   Wintermute was issued a six-month Interim Permit by the Board of Registered Nursing, but it expired in 2007, and she never obtained a license.

Wintermute has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear in court on May 19, 2017.  An arrest warrant has been issued for Chendri, but he is believed to be out of the country.

Health Center Owner Convicted of Aiding the Unlicensed Practice of Medicine

Physician Michael Zadeh of Encino pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine following his arrest in February. One of Zadeh’s employees, Siranush Mkrtchyan, also pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of practicing medicine without a license.

Recently, two more of Zadeh’s employees entered pleas with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Rebecca Merzlak and Lyndi Loomis each pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of practicing medicine without a license. A fourth employee, Amanda Farrar, has pleaded not guilty to one felony count of practicing medicine without a license. Her next court date is scheduled for October 4, 2017.

Zadeh is the owner of Z Center for Cosmetic Health in Sherman Oaks. The center was investigated by Operation Safe Medicine, a specialized unit within the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation Health Quality Investigation Unit after receipt of an anonymous complaint about the business.

Undercover investigators made appointments at the center and scheduled treatments that required examination by a doctor or nurse practitioner. One investigator was scheduled for laser hair removal without having been properly examined, while a second investigator was diagnosed with a skin condition and was prescribed a bleaching ointment without having received a proper examination.

Merzlak is a licensed esthetician and Farrar is a registered nurse. Mkrtchyan and Loomis were both unlicensed.

The Board of Registered Nursing, the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology and the Medical Board of California will take action, as appropriate, against Farrar, Merzlak and Zadeh, respectively.





Chiropractor Arrested for Unlicensed Practice of Medicine

Northern California woman used the designation of “D. PSc.” in her advertisements


A Northern California chiropractor was arrested January 16, 2017, and charged with practicing medicine without a license.

Diem Thi Nguyen, of El Dorado Hills, is licensed by the State of California as a chiropractor and is not licensed as a medical doctor.  Nguyen advertised in a Sacramento newspaper that she could treat thyroid problems and diabetes and advertised neurological testing of patients.

Nguyen used the designation of “D. PSc.” in her advertisements.  “D.PSc.” is an acronym for Doctor of Pastoral Science, which the Pastoral Medical Association website describes as a “license.”  According to the Medical Board of California, Doctor of Pastoral Science is not recognized in California and does not authorize anyone to practice medicine or any of the healing arts in the state.

Nguyen was investigated by the Sacramento Field Office of the Health Quality Investigation Unit with the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation at the request of the Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the Medical Board of California. Investigators conducted an undercover operation at Nguyen’s clinic where she allegedly diagnosed and treated the undercover operative for an adrenal gland issue, insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances.

Nguyen has offices located in El Dorado and Sacramento counties. Her business is called New Life Integrity Wellness and is located on Golden Foothill Parkway, in El Dorado Hills, and on Laguna Spring Drive, in Elk Grove.

Nguyen’s next court appearance is scheduled for February 27, 2017 in Sacramento Superior Court.

Unlicensed Southern California Man Charged with Sexual Battery


Glendale man is accused of illegally performing medical procedures and assaulting a woman 

Antonio Nozar, of Glendale, will be in court on January 25, 2017, to face two misdemeanor charges of sexual battery and three misdemeanor counts of practicing medicine without a license.

Nozar, who owns Smooth Skin Laser Clinic on Broadway in Glendale, is accused of inappropriately touching a female patient during a cosmetic procedure he was allegedly illegally performing.

The Department of Consumer Affairs’ Operation Safe Medicine unit within the Division of Investigation’s Health Quality Investigation Unit conducted a joint investigation with the Glendale Police Department after a victim alleged that Nozar had inappropriately touched her breasts and vaginal area during a laser hair removal treatment in 2015.

The investigation showed that in addition to allegedly committing sexual battery, Nozar had been illegally performing cosmetic procedures. Nozar is not licensed as a doctor, physician assistant or registered nurse. Investigators learned that another woman had reported similar allegations in 2009, but the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges due to insufficient evidence.

Shortly before his arrest in August 2016, a third victim reported that Nozar had touched her inappropriately during a treatment earlier this year.

Physician Hooshang Tabibian, of Los Angeles, has been charged with one misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine. Tabibian allegedly accepted money from Nozar in exchange for allowing Nozar to use his name to make the clinic appear legitimate.

The law requires that the patient receive an examination from a physician or nurse practitioner before receiving cosmetic treatments. Tabibian allegedly never met any of Nozar’s victims. Tabibian will be in court on January 25, 2017, at which time the Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the Medical Board of California will request an order restricting Tabibian’s ability to practice as a physician for the duration of the criminal proceedings.

The Medical Board of California has published a list of frequently asked questions regarding cosmetic treatments, which can be read here.

Anyone with additional information about Nozar can contact the Medical Board. Complaints against Nozar can be filed here.

Consumers can file complaints against any Department of Consumer Affairs’ licensees here.

The Los Angeles Times story can be read here.

Investigators Honored by US Attorney’s Office

Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation staff participated in joint ‘Operation Fright Night.’


Eight investigators with the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation Health Quality Enforcement Unit were recently honored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and were presented with the 2016 U.S. Law Enforcement Award.

The investigators were recognized for their work on “Operation Fright Night,” which was a series of joint undercover operations conducted with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Import Operations Branch of the Los Angeles District Office, the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the California Department of Public Health.

Operation Fright Night led to the filing of misdemeanor charges against 10 Los Angeles area businesses for selling contact lenses without prescriptions.

Awards were presented to supervising investigators Jeff Gomez and Carmen Aguilera-Marquez and to investigators Jaime Sandoval, Majida Ibrahim, Tracy Tu, Bernard Lim, Caroline Montgomery and Max Degtyar.

The annual awards ceremony recognizes agents, officers and investigators with federal, state and local agencies who worked on U.S. Attorney’s Office cases.

For more information on the case, see the previous blog story here.



Ex-Physician Gets Prison Time for Illegal Painkiller Prescribing


San Rafael man pleads guilty to illegally distributing oxycodone for cash.

Former physician Michael Roger Chiarottino, of San Rafael, was sentenced by a federal judge to three years in prison for prescribing painkillers in exchange for cash.

The July 19, 2016, sentence follows Chiarottino’s guilty plea to one federal charge of distribution of oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

Chiarottino was initially charged with 15 counts of distribution of controlled substances including oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone and methadone.  As part of his plea, Chiarottino admitted that on six occasions between February 12, 2013, and March 6, 2014, he prescribed controlled substances in exchange for cash to undercover Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents posing as patients.

On each occasion, Chiarottino failed to conduct an appropriate medical examination or obtain a sufficient patient medical history from the undercover agent to support a prescription for the narcotics he prescribed.

Chiarottino was initially investigated by the Health Quality Investigation Unit (HQIU) Pleasant Hill and San Jose Field offices of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation after concerns were raised about his prescribing practices between 2010 and 2012.

During the two-year investigation, HQIU investigators worked with the DEA, Livermore Police Department and Pleasanton Police Department to conduct undercover operations and serve search warrants on Chiarottino’s home and business.

The investigation resulted in an accusation filed by the Medical Board of California in 2014, which alleged that Chiarottino had engaged in unprofessional conduct including gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, incompetence, excessive prescribing and inadequate record-keeping during his care of five patients. Chiarottino surrendered his medical license on June 10, 2015.

A copy of the Medical Board of California documents can be read here.

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s news release can be read here.

The United States Attorney’s Office news release can be read here.