Lawsuit Alleges OC Hospital Framed Doctor on Gun Charges
A lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court two days ago includes stunning allegations about a bizarre incident first reported by the Weekly two years ago.
On June 28, 2006, Santa Ana police arrested Dr. Michael Fitzgibbons, an infectious diseases specialist at Western Medical Center, when they found a weapon and gloves in his car after he allegedly brandished a handgun while driving near his office.
They acted on a tip from an anonymous caller using a pay phone. Police found no evidence linking the gun or the gloves to Fitzgibbons—besides the fact they were stashed in his car—so the District Attorney's office declined to press charges against Fitzgibbons, who claimed someone set him up in retaliation for his efforts as a whistleblower who exposed shoddy conditions at the hospital.
Just a few weeks before the arrest, a judge had dismissed a lawsuit against him by Integrated HealthCare Holdings, Inc. (IHHI), which owns the hospital, based on work e-mails Fitzgibbons wrote claiming that the company was in dire financial straits.
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The July 15 lawsuit was filed by Orange County Phyiscians Investment Network (OCPIN), of which Fitzgibbons is a member, against IHHI and its chief executive officer, Bruce Mogel, and apparently follows efforts by OCPIN to have Mogul fired by IHHI for alleged wrongdoing, including embezzlement and lying about his past history of lawsuits. But the most stunning allegation contained in the 30-page complaint concerns Fitzgibbons' mysterious firearms arrest two years ago.
Specifically, the suit alleges that Mogel, angry at Fitzgibbons for his whistleblowing efforts, sought to have him discredited by planting the evidence in his car that led to his stunning arrest. Several paragraphs in the complaint detail how Santa Ana cops responded to an anonymous 911 call about a man in a car waving a gun, found a vehicle at the hospital's nearby parking lot that matched the description, and received permission by Fitzgibbons to search the car, resulting in the discovery of the gun and gloves.
Meanwhile, according to the lawsuit, "Mogel was in IHHI's corporate headquarters, which is located next to the parking lot." While the police handcuffed Fitzgibbons, "Mogel calmly walked into a second-story office of IHHI's building that overlooks the hospital parking lot to watch the events. Mogel was not at all surprised or alarmed by the arrest of Dr. Fitzgibbons, but instead pensively watched over the commotion, as if to admire his work. As Dr. Fitzgibbons was being handcuffed and placed into the police car, Mogel boldly stated: 'People don't know how powerful I am.'"
On July 10, 2006, the complaint continues, "Mogel demanded that IHHI's president, Larry B. Anderson.... draft a contract between IHHI and a purported 'web development company' named Form Labs, Inc. The price of the contract was to be $10,000. This request was suspicious because IHHI had already engaged the services of another web development company. Mogel took the contract that Mr. Anderson prepared and signed for him, and made arrangements for Form Labs to be paid $10,000."
However, the complaint states, Form Labs failed to do any web work for IHHI. "Based on information and belief, it is alleged that Mogel used $10,000 of IHHI's funds to arrange and pay for the black gloves and gun to be planted in Dr. Fitzgibbons' vehicle, leading to his arrest."
Dan Callahan, a Newport Beach attorney with Callahan & Blaine, would not name the source who allegedly overheard Mogul make the ominous remark while Fitzgibbons was being arrested. "There is an individual who told us personally he was there and this is what Bruce Mogel said verbatim," he said. Callahan added that his law firm had tried without success to contact Form Labs to verify the company's existence. "Our opinion [of Form Labs] is its a front," he said.
IHHI did not respond to a request for comment. Form Lab's website includes no list of clients and when you click on "portfolio," you get this strange message. "Due to the ever increasing theft of intellectual property, our portfolio is not available for public viewing. Selected clients may view our previous work subsequent to the initial consultation. If you are interested in our service and have reviewed the general pricing structure, then contact us via e-mail."
But when you click on "contact us" there's no mailing address or telephone number, just the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org, which isn't even clickable as a hyperlink. An e-mail from the Weekly to Form Labs asking if the company was real elicited a prompt response from someone identified only as "administration."
In a subsequent email, "administration" refused provide a telephone number where he or she could be contacted. (The website's domain name is anonymous registered to someone with a Newport Beach fax machine and post office box). But "administration" did state that the company had been paid $10,000 by IHHI for consulting.
Here's a portion of that e-mail:
This is our minimum fee for any service . . . We were hired for consulting only. The consulting work included research and market potential for IHHI's company website, as well as verbal communication including (but not limited to) Q and A, demographic analysis, verbal reports and proprietary marketing information . . . By the direction of our attorneys, it is advised that we minimize contact by withholding names and telephone conversations until the matter is investigated further or resolved. We apologize for not being more accommodating, but rely on our attorneys' advice.
Fitzgibbons isn't a party to OCPIN's lawsuit, but filed his own lawsuit against IHHI earlier this month, alleging the company helped frame him.
"The attack on me was scurrilous shocking and criminal," he said. "I went to the Santa Ana police, the Irvine police, the California Highway Patrol, the Attorney General, the [Orange County] District Attorney, and the FBI, telling them that I had been framed. And no-one listened. I hope that now someone will listen. And I'd like to see somebody else in handcuffs over this."
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