Rancho Santa Fe Lokesh Tantuwaya
The now defunct Pacific Hospital in Long Beach. Photo credit: Screen shot, lbpost.com

A San Diego neurosurgeon was sentenced Friday to five years behind bars for accepting $3.3 million in bribes to perform spinal surgeries at a now-defunct Long Beach hospital, whose owner was later imprisoned for committing a massive workers’ compensation system scam.

Lokesh Tantuwaya, 55, was sentenced in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who also ordered him to forfeit his ill-gotten gains of $3.3 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Tantuwaya pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and to violating the federal anti-kickback statute. He has been in federal custody since May 2021, after violating the terms of his pretrial release.

According to prosecutors, from 2010 to 2013, Tantuwaya accepted money from Michael Drobot, who owned Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, in exchange for Tantuwaya performing spinal surgeries at that hospital. The bribe amount varied depending on the type of spinal surgery.

Pacific Hospital specialized in surgeries, especially spinal and orthopedic procedures. Prosecutors said Drobot conspired with doctors, chiropractors and marketers to pay kickbacks and bribes to have thousands of patients referred to Pacific Hospital for spinal surgeries and other medical services funded mainly through the California workers’ compensation system.

During its final years, the scheme resulted in the submission of more than $500 million in medical bills for spine surgeries involving kickbacks, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Tantuwaya admitted in his plea agreement that he knew or deliberately was ignorant that the payments he was receiving were bribes for bringing his patient surgeries to Pacific Hospital. He also admitted depositing bribe checks into his bank accounts, according to documents filed in Los Angeles federal court.

In total, Tantuwaya received $3.3 million in illegal payments, prosecutors said.

In April 2013, law enforcement searched Pacific Hospital, which was sold later that year, bringing the kickback scheme to an end.

There have been 23 defendants convicted for participating in the kickback scheme, according to federal prosecutors.

– City News Service