Doctor faces malpractice lawsuits, fraud accusations and, yet, will has a license to practice medicine.
Dr. Lokesh Tantuwaya, a spinal surgeon who performed so many surgeries at a now-shuttered hospital in Long Beach that he was offered a private jet to commute to the facility, has become the subject of multiple malpractice lawsuits and a federal healthcare scheme. One of Tantuwaya’s patients sued him for malpractice after she went in for a routine back surgery and it went so badly her leg had to be amputated. He was also charged with accepting millions in bribes to perform these surgeries. Yet, despite all of this on his record, the doctor remains licensed.
The kickback scheme came to light in 2018 and centered on Pacific Hospital of Long Beach which specialized in spinal and orthopedic procedures. The owner of Pacific Hospital, Michael D. Drobot, “conspired with doctors, chiropractors, and marketers to pay kickbacks in return for the referral of thousands of patients for spinal surgeries and other medical services paid for primarily through the California workers’ compensation system,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). During the last five years of its operation, there were more than $500 million in fraudulent medical bills associated with the hospital, and Drobot eventually went to federal prison.
Tantuwaya was charged with accepting $3.2 million in bribes and was ordered to hand over his passport, a million dollars and the jet. However, he has not yet gone to trial, and has pleaded not guilty. In June of this year, a judge finally ruled he was a flight risk and confined him to Santa Ana jail only after federal agents learned he’d purchased his own private plane and had discussed “fitting it with an extended fuel tank, just in case he needed to go far away,” according to a motion to revoke bond.
“If he were in any other profession, his license would be yanked,” said Marian Hollingsworth, co-founder of the Patient Safety League, “Any reasonable person would ask, ‘Why does he still have his license?’”
Tantuwaya has also been put on probation three times in the last four years by the Medical Board of California. On his disciplinary record include the following charges: “In 2014, he pinned his wife against a wall in front of their children and announced, ‘You kids can leave, but I’m going to kill your mother tonight.’ He was arrested and pleaded guilty to attempting to dissuade a witness from reporting a crime and child endangerment and was put him on three years’ probation.; In 2019, the board ruled that Tantuwaya had been grossly negligent for failing to provide pain medication to a patient after surgery.; He also failed to alert the board within 30 days that he had been convicted of violating a protective order granted to his wife for which he spent 15 days in jail.” The list goes on.
Susan del Castillo, who said she has been dating Tantuwaya since 2019, said her boyfriend has to stay close to home to “care for his elderly parents” and that he “wants to go to trial” to defend himself and clear the record. “There has never been any talk of trying to flee,” she said.
Tantuwaya’s trial was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is unclear when things will move forward.