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Doctor accuses 1-800-GET-THIN president of identity theft

A Marina del Rey anesthesiologist has filed a lawsuit accusing the president of the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing firm of identity theft for using the doctor's name to establish a corporation that billed insurers without his permission.

Dr. Martin E. Flynn alleged in the lawsuit that Robert Silverman set up a company in May 2011 called MAFL Medical Inc., which was used to bill insurers for anesthesiology services provided to Lap-Band weight-loss surgery patients.

Flynn acknowledged in the lawsuit that he performed anesthesiology during more than 200 Lap-Band surgeries at outpatient clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET THIN. He refused to sign a contract that would have allowed the owners of the surgery centers to set up a corporation to bill insurers for services he provided, but Silverman did it anyway, Flynn said in the lawsuit.

"His personal identifying information has been stolen by defendants," according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Los Angeles. "MAFL has submitted fraudulent bills to his patients' insurance companies for exorbitant fees for anesthesiology services that he provided."

Flynn also alleged in the lawsuit that Silverman set up a series of phony companies using the names of several other physicians, also without their permission.

Silverman is the president and chief executive of 1-800-GET-THIN, a marketing company that has advertised Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries on Southern California roadside billboards and on television, radio, buses and the Internet.

Silverman denied wrongdoing.

"There is absolutely no merit to these baseless unverified allegations," Silverman said in an email. "I am 100% confident that this cause of action will be dismissed."

Also named as a defendant in Flynn's lawsuit is Dr. Michael Omidi, who owns 1-800-GET-THIN and its affiliated surgery centers, the lawsuit alleged.

An attorney who represents Omidi did not respond to an email seeking comment. A woman who answered the telephone at a surgery center affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN refused to take a message for Omidi.

"He is not here and he doesn't work here," the woman said before hanging up.

The lawsuit comes amid a host of investigations of 1-800-GET-THIN and the surgery centers by local, state and federal agencies. Earlier this month, a spokesman for the California Department of Insurance said the agency was investigating companies affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN for possible insurance fraud.

In December, the Food and Drug Administration warned 1-800-GET-THIN and its affiliated surgery centers that the billboard ads were misleading because they failed to provide adequate warnings about risks of the surgery.

At least five Southern California patients have died since 2009 following Lap-Band surgery at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN ad 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 and help patients shed unwanted pounds. Allergan said this month that it would no longer sell its product to clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN.

Times staff writer Alejandro Lazo contributed to this report.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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