By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Judgment Day for Dr. K
Nearly eight years after the Weekly exposed his fraud, Dr. George Kooshian is scheduled to plead guilty to charging patients a fortune for injections that contained little more than salt water
How did Dr. George Steven Kooshian pay for his lavish lifestyle, including a five-bedroom, 17,500-square-foot, ocean-view, Newport Coast mansion and drive a fleet of cars (a black Z8 convertible BMW, a maroon Mercedes SUV, a silver Mercedes sedan and three Porsches—one yellow, one black and one eggplant)? At least part of the answer to that question is simple: He cheated.
From 1995 to early 2001, when I started investigating him, the doctor charged patients as much as $9,000 per shot under the ruse that he’d injected them with expensive, critical drugs. In fact, he’d given them saline—in essence, common salt water—mixed with liquid vitamins.
I broke that news in a 2001 cover story and was met with threats of violence from anonymous callers, contempt from other media outlets, bitter letters to the editor, angry denials from Kooshian (a celebrity of sorts for his charitable deeds) and promises of a libel lawsuit from his lawyers. Ultimately, FBI agents in 2005 used the results of the Weekly’s series of articles as the basis for criminal charges and arrested the unrepentant doctor.
The wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly. Later this month, according to court records, Kooshian is scheduled to utter (in his Virginia native’s molasses drawl) a confession to the basics of my initial 8-year-old article (see “My Conscience Is Killing Me,” July 27, 2001): He “knowingly and willfully” masterminded a multiyear scam to cheat patients and their insurance companies while he operated offices in Laguna Beach, Garden Grove and Long Beach.
Beside the fact that Kooshian was already a multimillionaire, there are remarkable, ironic twists to the doctor’s greedy downfall. Himself gay, he’d performed numerous acts of undeniable kindness to gay patients and Southern California’s gay community at large. Yet most of his victims were gay people suffering from hepatitis, HIV and/or AIDS. Federal agents now report that Kooshian stole as much as $660,995 from them.
Bryan Noble, one of the abused patients, told me, “When you go to a doctor, you put your life in his hands. You would hope he’s not playing God.” After learning of Kooshian’s scam, he called him “a monster . . . who comes across so knowledgeable and caring.”
Abusing his position of trust shouldn’t serve Kooshian well when federal Judge Alicemarie Stotler reviews prison-sentencing guidelines. But here’s what will: a signed December plea agreement. In it, he has acknowledged that he is guilty of committing four federal health-care crimes, including violating his sacred medical oath and lying to patients about epogen, interferon and immunogammaglobulin injections.
“My expectation is that this case will yield time in prison,” said Lawrence E. Kole, an assistant United States attorney based in Santa Ana. Kole hasn’t yet made a formal sentencing recommendation to Stotler. According to court documents, the maximum sentence for all of Kooshian’s crimes is 50 years in prison and a $1.32 million fine.
“Dr. Kooshian is obviously acknowledging the subdosing,” said William Kopeny, the doctor’s attorney. “It is important to him that this plea is not seen as evidence that he did anything to impair the health of any of his patients.”
When she sets Kooshian’s punishment later this year, Stotler is expected to take into account the doctor’s prior criminal history. In 1991, the Newport Beach Police Department arrested Kooshian during an undercover sting operation. He’d been operating a four-year side business illegally selling anabolic steroids to body builders. All of his felony charges in the case were reduced to misdemeanors after he blamed his crimes on personal medical problems and promised authorities he’d play straight in the future.
In the latest case, the prosecution was strengthened by Virgil Opinion, Kooshian’s chief nurse, co-conspirator and the man who granted me an exclusive interview detailing the scam. Opinion described the doctor, who now lives in a phenomenal Palm Springs-area estate, as obsessed with making money. The nurse also awaits sentencing this year for his role.
In the early days of the scandal, Kooshian, his personal friends and The Orange County-Long Beach Blade, the monthly gay publication he sponsored with regular full-page advertisements, attacked my reports.
Kooshian, whose medical residency took place at UC Irvine, told me in one reluctant interview, “What is left is for a more responsible journalist to be interested in the truth and print the truth!”
The author of a letter to the editor opined, “Moxley is not so much interested in presenting news as in the adrenalin kick he gets while poring over his list of expletives and verbs while producing fantastic paranoia that went out of style back in the ’60s.”
Without acknowledging its financial ties to the doctor, The Blade ran a full-page advertisement declaring that I was “lacking in journalistic integrity and objectivity.” The ad described Kooshian as a “concerned and caring physician” who had been victimized by “unethical and inappropriate” reporting.
In April 2002, Bill LaPointe, that paper’s owner, declared that he would print nothing more about Kooshian until the case was resolved.
Well, Bill, seven years later, here we are. I look forward to your apology.
HARD-ON FOR HAIDL
Mike Carona’s legal defense team isn’t satisfied with angling for weak punishment for their client, who was convicted last month on a felony charge of attempting to sabotage a federal grand jury investigating corruption at Carona’s Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Jeffrey Rawitz, Carona’s rascally Jones Day defense attorney, is now demanding that Carona’s prosecutors pursue perjury charges against their No. 1 witness: Don Haidl, Carona’s onetime best friend and assistant sheriff who is a multimillionaire from selling used cars. Haidl secretly wore an FBI wire that captured a paranoid, plotting and foul-mouthed Carona creating lies to cover up his crimes in office.
Rawitz, a former assistant United States attorney, insists that Haidl blatantly lied under oath about a side issue in the trial: the extent of his illegal campaign-contribution-reimbursement practices. Haidl testified that he learned to circumvent campaign laws from Carona. Rawitz argued that disclosure records and testimony proved otherwise. The immunity deal Haidl got from the government required him to testify honestly.
“I want to force the court to decide whether or not Mr. Haidl violated his plea agreement,” Rawitz told me on Jan. 29. “If he did, then as a matter of law, the plea agreement should be set aside and Haidl charged. I believe they have overwhelming evidence of his guilt. It’d be a slam-dunk prosecution.”
But, Jeff, if Haidl’s testimony is to be believed, then your client was guilty of all the charges.
“Have you heard of double jeopardy?” he asked. “They can’t come after my client again.”
So you’re worried about somebody lying?
“You bet,” Rawitz said. “I’m mad about this.”
This guy is relentless.
While I laughed, Rawitz held a grave look on his face for about five seconds, and then couldn’t help but smile. He’d just spent 14 months defending one of the biggest liars in Orange County history.
His face turned solemn again. “No, really,” he said, “I’m serious this time.”
Read our coverage of the dismissal of federal criminal charges against Mike Carona’s wife and top mistress under “Carona Watch” at the Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog. Don’t miss it. It involves shtupping.