A former Marina del Rey doctor and his Playa del Rey associate are at the center of a $150 million insurance fraud case

By Gary Walker

A 2013 police photo of
Dr. Munir Uwaydah

A Playa del Rey man stands accused of co-conspiring with a crooked Marina del Rey doctor to bilk insurance companies of $150 million through unnecessary surgeries — an alleged scam that prosecutors are calling one of the largest workers’ compensation frauds in California history.

Jeffrey Stevens, 65, has been charged with money laundering, conspiracy, making a false or fraudulent claim and making unlawful patient referrals. He faces up to 57 years in prison
if convicted.

One of 12 defendants in a case refiled in L.A. Superior Court on March 16, Stevens is described in his indictment as a “business associate” of Dr. Munir Uwaydah, an orthopedic surgeon formerly of Marina del Rey who investigators believe masterminded the scheme and has since fled the country.

According to the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, Uwaydah and his associates hoodwinked nearly two dozen victims into having unnecessary surgeries, leaving many with lasting scars and some requiring new surgeries to repair the damage.

As early as 2004, Uwaydah allegedly convinced patients he would perform their surgeries but wasn’t always present in the operating room. Instead, prosecutors say Redondo Beach resident Peter Nelson, a physician’s assistant who did not attend medical school, was the one putting patients under the knife. Nelson, 45, and six others face life in prison if convicted of multiple charges.

Also indicted was Kelly Soo Park, 51, who also faces life in prison on charges of conspiracy, aggravated mayhem, insurance fraud, filing a false tax return and unlawful patient referral. In 2013, Park was acquitted of the 2008 murder of aspiring Santa Monica model Juliana Redding. Prosecutors in that trial failed to convince a jury that she was “an enforcer” for Uwaydah, who had dated Redding.

Uwaydah, who fled the country in 2010, had been involved with Redding’s father, a pharmacist, in a business deal that the elder Redding broke off.

Prosecutors originally filed charges against the current defendants in September 2015 but have now restructured their case.

“Our office divided the larger case into three smaller ones in an effort to streamline the complex litigation and refiled several counts that previously had been dismissed,” said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

Attorneys for defendants in the case could not be reached for comment this week.

According to court documents, Stevens referred clients to Frontline Medical Associates, a company owned by Uwaydah, by allegedly making illegal cash payouts to an attorney from September 2006 to March 2010.

“It is illegal to help steer business to anyone for profit by anyone involved in health care,” said Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Insurance. “Patients should have confidence that any decision made on their behalf is driven by what is in the best interest of the patient’s care and their medical needs.”

Stevens and other defendants are also accused of fraudulently billing insurance companies for unnecessary prescription medications and fake MRIs.

In 2009, Stevens opened a business called California MRI to exclusively serve patients of Uwaydah’s Frontline Medical Associates. California MRI operated out of a trailer behind a Frontline Medical office in the city of San Fernando.

The latest criminal complaint alleges Park and other conspirators falsified documents for Uwaydah in an attempt to thwart a California Medical Board investigation, over-prescribed medications, over-billed insurance companies for pharmaceuticals, and filed tax returns “that did not accurately reflect their relationship with or income from Frontline Medical Associates.”

The board canceled Uwaydah’s medical license in 2013.

Following the 2015 arrests, L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey did not mince words.

“Today we put an end to the illegal activities of an organized criminal enterprise that was responsible for one of the largest insurance fraud scams in California’s history,” Lacey said at the time.