Pain-relief cream concoction, part of a $25M scam, inadvertently caused a baby's death
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Southern California doctors were bribed to prescribe a pain-relief concoction as part of a $25 million workers' compensation scam that inadvertently caused a baby's death, according to indictments.
Two recently released Orange County grand jury indictments name 15 people, including physicians, pharmacists, chiropractors and the head of an Ontario-based workers' compensation claims management firm.
The indictments name Kareem Ahmed, a major campaign donor to President Barack Obama and head of the Landmark Medical Management. Prosecutors contend that he hired pharmacists to produce a pain-relief cream, gave kickbacks to doctors and chiropractors to prescribe it to workers' compensation patients, and conspired to submit phony claims.
Prosecutors alleged insurance fraud and conspiracy in a 44-count indictment, with crimes occurring from Oct. 1, 2009, through Jan. 31, 2013. Kickbacks to individuals were as high as $8 million over multiple years, the indictment said.
Altogether, Ahmed paid out more than $25 million to have the cream dispensed, prosecutors contended.
A 5-month-old boy in Los Angeles County ate some of the cream and died, according to a coroner's report.
Ahmed, pharmacist Michael Rudolph and Dr. Andrew Jarminski have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The infant's parents also have sued over his death.
The indictment alleged that Jarminski was paid more than $1.9 million and Rudolph more than $1 million in kickbacks.
Attorneys for Rudolph and Jarminski didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ahmed's attorney, Richard Moss, denied Ahmed did anything illegal and said he is confident his client will be exonerated.
The cream was compounded by licensed pharmacists, lawfully prescribed and filled by licensed pharmacists, Moss said.
Moss said while the child's death was a tragedy, it was "outrageous" to blame the doctor, pharmacist and the head of the company that dealt with the workers' compensation insurance claims.
"You can buy things that are inherently dangerous for human life in any store," Moss said. "You can buy rat poison. If it's misused, that should not create liability (because) Wal-Mart might have sold it."
The baby's parents are suing Jarminski, his assistant, medical group and pharmacy for negligence. They contend that the cream wasn't properly prescribed and the mother, Priscilla Lujan, wasn't adequately warned of the risks of the cream or told how to apply it.
She saw Jarminski for back and knee pain in February 2012 and was prescribed a cream that, according to the baby's autopsy report, contained the antidepressant Amitriptyline, the cough suppressant Dextromethorphan and the pain reliever Tramadol.
After applying it, she held her baby boy, let him suck her fingers to soothe him, and prepared a bottle for him, said her attorney, Shawn McCann.
The next morning, the baby was found in bed unresponsive, and tests showed he'd ingested lethal amounts of drugs in the cream.
Lujan was initially arrested, McCann said.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office didn't file charges because of insufficient evidence, spokeswoman Jane Robison said.
McCann said Lujan received medication with no warning, instructions or even her name on it.
"She's relying on the doctor to do the best for her," McCann said. "Turns out he was doing what was best for himself."