By Gustavo Arellano
By Aimee Murillo
By Matt Coker
By Vickie Chang
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By LP Hastings
By Michael Goldstein
By R. Scott Moxley
His daughter had two friends in the car, Japanese exchange students, who hadn’t been wearing their seat belts until, fortuitously, she told them it was against the law to not buckle up. All three escaped without a scratch. Fitzgibbons and his 22-year-old daughter jumped in his wife’s Astrovan and headed to the scene of the crash, but as he pulled out of the driveway, his daughter told him the front right tire had just gone flat. So he got in a second vehicle, picked up his older daughter and her friends, and took them to an urgent-care clinic.
Although the California Highway Patrol ruled the crash to be an accident, Fitzgibbons was suspicious enough about what had happened to hire a forensic investigator to examine the car. It didn’t take long for the investigator to discover a 2-inch horizontal slash on the tire’s tread. His assessment: Someone intentionally slashed the tire, which catastrophically failed, thus causing the crash. (The investigator confirmed that assessment in an interview with the Weekly at the time; Fitzgibbons provided the Weekly with a photograph of the damaged tire.) Fitzgibbons’ wife had already taken her Astrovan in to have the other punctured tire replaced, so there was no way to check if it had been slashed as well.
Convinced that both cars had been vandalized, Fitzgibbons met with detectives at the Irvine Police Department. They declined to investigate. Meanwhile, gossip circulated at Western Medical that Fitzgibbons was paranoid and that he’d staged the gun incident. One source shared those same suspicions with the Weekly at the time.
As more doctors abandoned Fitzgibbons, he felt increasingly isolated and vulnerable in his costly crusade against IHHI. “It was emotionally very trying,” he says. “I was disgusted that these people had been able to come into this hospital and hijack an institution that had done a tremendous amount of good for the community and just use it for their own purposes. I was saddened because the authorities had turned their back on the hospital, and the hospital had turned its back on me.”
* * *
In May 2007, Fitzgibbons sued IHHI for aiding and abetting criminal activity by spreading false rumors about him in the wake of the gun episode. It was just one of seemingly countless lawsuits that were now flying back and forth among IHHI and various doctors and business partners involved with the company. Many of IHHI’s lawsuits targeted people critical of the company, especially those who spoke out against CEO Bruce Mogel.
Before joining IHHI, Mogel had lost his job in 2003 at Alta Healthcare System, which owned seven LA-area hospitals, when the company discovered that he had forged several checks and given both himself and his business partner Larry Anderson, who became IHHI’s vice president, a handsome raise and bonus, according to a Sept. 4, 2003, investigative report by Alta uncovered as part of Dr. Shah’s lawsuit. In January 2006, Anderson wrote a letter to IHHI’s board of directors claiming that Mogel had also taken kickbacks from hospital vendors. He begged without success to not have to report to Mogel any longer.
Despite Anderson’s warnings, IHHI continued to file lawsuits against anyone who disparaged Mogel. The company also sued Shah, who had become critical of Mogel and had refused to sign off on what he considered to be IHHI’s highly questionable line of credit with Medical Capital Partners—the same deal that Fitzgibbons had questioned. Shah now says he felt particularly disturbed by Mogel’s cozy relationship with Medical Capital’s CEO, Joey Lampariello. “I wouldn’t sign the loan document because it was for 24 percent—a usurious rate,” Shah says. “I had investors all over the country and raised $11.5 million, but Joey wouldn’t take my money.”
IHHI’s litigiousness finally backfired when the company sued for defamation Fred Siembeda, a loan broker who had allegedly made negative comments about Mogel. Siembeda responded by suing IHHI. Among other things, his lawyers deposed Anderson, who proved only too happy to divulge everything he knew about Mogel. In August 2008, Marc Miles, a lawyer with Callahan & Blaine, the Santa Ana-based law firm representing Shah against IHHI, also deposed Anderson, who provided even more details about Mogel, details that seemed to have everything to do with Fitzgibbons and his strange arrest on gun charges. According to Anderson, on June 10, 2006, less than three weeks before the arrest, Mogel called Anderson into his office. For weeks, Mogel had been fuming about both Shah and Fitzgibbons, Anderson said, boasting that he was going to “humble” the two doctors.
“He was in an odd mood, I would say, and he started talking about Dr. Shah,” Anderson stated under oath. “He said, ‘You know, there are people who could kidnap Shah’s wife . . . who could kidnap Shah’s daughter . . . who could take Shah into a bathroom, strip him down naked and hold a knife to his penis. They won’t cut it off; they won’t hurt him at all, but they will make him crap his pants.’” Mogel also boasted that he could arrange for someone to put “kiddie porn” on Shah’s computer.
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