In December of 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice filed indictments against 21 suspects related to their alleged involvement in a complex and widespread fraud scheme centered around a chain of high-end luxury hospitals branded as Forest Park Medical Center. There’s a shell of its flagship up Central, the building having been bought by Medical City but is still awaiting redevelopment as a specialized surgical center. The feds alleged that the foundation of Forest Park was a big scam to get high out-of-network payments from insurance companies. Some of the founding doctors involved are accused of offering and receiving kickbacks for patient referrals. The chain built six hospitals, all of which were thrown into bankruptcy as its physician founders started getting indicted. Total assets ballooned to more than $1 billion before they fell. I wrote about all this in a feature for D CEO in 2015.
Since then, 11 of the defendants have pleaded guilty. One of the founders—and the first to get popped, in 2015—was anesthesiologist Richard Toussaint, and he pleaded guilty a few months after the indictments and volunteered to testify against his colleagues. His indictment was salacious and included brazen allegations, including billing for procedures during times he was on a private jet as well as receiving surgery himself.
Will Maddox of D CEO Healthcare Daily reports that the long-awaited trial of the remaining 10 defendants began today. It’s expected to last two months. The feds tracked $200 million to the scheme, about $40 million of which were kickbacks. These were disguised as marketing arrangements in some cases. In others, they came in the form of outright cash payments. All of those facing trial have pleaded not guilty. Two of the doctors, Dr. Doug Won and Michael Rimlawi, were the men who first recruited the neurosurgeon Dr. Christopher Duntsch to town, who we coined Dr. Death and later became the first physician in American history to be convicted for aggravated assault related to his patient outcomes.
They’re accused of accepting payments in return for performing surgeries at Forest Park. Won’s attorney told The Dallas Morning News that he never received payments to steer patients to Forest Park facilities—he practiced there because of the high quality of its surgical suites and materials. Here is how I described the allegations two years ago, based on internal documents and Toussaint’s testimony:
Marketing was how many of the kickbacks were funneled, the feds allege. The plea deal includes what’s known as a factual resume—basically a narrative of the scheme that fueled Forest Park for so long, signed and verified by Toussaint. Taken with an internal memo drafted by the hospital’s in-house counsel and obtained by D Magazine, a full picture emerges of allegations that detail some of the company’s higher ups sinking the Forest Park business model through greed and fraud. Surgeons were paid millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks for patient referrals. The founders allowed high-referring surgeons to buy more investment units, allowing them to profit more from the revenue coming in, Toussaint says.
The Dallas Morning News says that a few of the surgeons say they were acting on bunk advice from attorneys, who assured them that the marketing arrangements were legitimate. Everyone who hasn’t pleaded out maintains they are not guilty.