A Chicago ophthalmologist who was the focus of a 2009 Tribune watchdog story was indicted by a federal grand jury this month on charges he defrauded his employees' pension benefit plan of more than $180,000.
In a five-count indictment, Dr. Nicholas Caro was charged with obtaining money from the pension plan "by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses and representations, and promises, and concealment of material facts." The counts include one for embezzlement and four for mail fraud.
Caro allegedly withdrew pension funds transferred from investment firms as checks and deposited them into bank accounts controlled by him or his wife. He used the money for personal expenses and for other improper purposes, the indictment charges.
Caro also allegedly made false reports to the U.S. Department of Labor and to his employees about the plan's assets, according to the indictment filed Nov. 15.
At his arraignment last week, Caro entered a plea of not guilty and was released on his own recognizance, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.
Attempts to reach Caro for comment were unsuccessful.
Caro was barred in 2010 from performing Lasik eye surgeries in Illinois after the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation determined he had engaged in unprofessional conduct and gross negligence.
The agency suspended his medical license for 30 days, placed him on probation for a minimum of three years and permanently banned him from performing procedures aimed at changing the curvature of the cornea, which includes Lasik surgeries. The agency also fined him $10,000, the maximum allowed per violation.
A Tribune story in 2009 reported that Caro had been sued nearly 50 times for medical malpractice in Cook County since the late 1990s. It also noted that Caro had continued to perform eye surgeries even though the state's chief medical prosecutor at the time, Lisa Stephens, had recommended in 2008 that his medical license be "suspended, revoked or otherwise disciplined" because the ophthalmologist allegedly had mishandled Lasik surgeries and failed to properly manage treatment of postoperative complications.
Lasik, short for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, is an elective surgical procedure in which a laser is used to change the shape of the cornea, the clear covering of the front of the eye. Lasik is intended to reduce a person's dependence on glasses or contact lenses and is one of the most common cosmetic surgeries performed in the U.S.
Caro has said he performed about 25,000 eye procedures over 25 years.
Some former patients have complained that their eyes were permanently damaged after undergoing Lasik surgery at his hands.
Karen Thiel told the Tribune in 2009 that a botched procedure seriously injured her cornea and resulted in persistent pain, a series of eye infections and permanent vision loss. More than a decade after her surgery, the now-retired clerical worker said she still had trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses. A jury awarded her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In a 2009 interview, Caro blamed the allegations of malpractice on a litigious society.
"A lot of doctors get sued," he said from his office at St. George Corrective Vision Center on West Peterson Avenue. "I'm a high-volume surgeon and do a lot of surgeries, and they're cosmetic. You're going to get sued. Other doctors who do Lasik have the same problem."
Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Co., which insures about 30 percent of U.S. ophthalmologists, said about 75 percent of the specialists who practice at least 25 years have three or fewer malpractice lawsuits or claims in their career.
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