Forest Park Defendant: “That’s Not How it Works”

The Forest Park Medical Center trial continued Friday morning, with testimony from Dr. Michael Rimlawi, one of the 10 remaining defendants in the alleged $40 million kickback scheme at the for-profit hospital. Testimony was focused on the nature of the payments that were made to physicians. The government attempted to frame these payments as kickbacks that were connected to the volume of value of surgeries done at the hospital, while Rimlawi vehemently denied it.

Rimlawi is the director and founder of the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute, and had operating privileges at the now bankrupt hospital. Rimlawi made the news when he and co-defendant Doug Won recruited Dr. Christopher Duntsch, who  was convicted for aggravated assault related to his patient outcomes and made famous in Matt Goodman’s piece coining him Dr. Death.  Duntsch performed just one surgery with MISI before he was fired, after Rimlawi said he flew to Las Vegas right after the operation and didn’t secure a call physician.

Rimlawi was questioned by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, whois known for defending celebrities such as Mike Tyson in a rape case, Bill Cosby’s retrial for sexual assault, and most famously, the 2005 molestation trial of Michael Jackson, where Jackson was acquitted of all 14 counts.

Mesereau worked to establish that Rimlawi operated within the law to the best of his knowledge, consulting Forest Park’s legal counsel on his activities centered around marketing arrangements and Department of Labor patients.

Prosecutor Katherine Pfeifle began her cross-examination with a look into fraudulent DOL billing, which Rimlawi said he had no knowledge about. When the prosecutor brought up conflicting testimony of his office staff, he deflected. “She was very scared of you guys. She’s petrified – she doesn’t know what you can do to her.”

Pfeifle pressed the surgeon on his time with Wise Health System in Decatur, Texas, where he had a marketing agreement. Rimlawi said it was a similar co-marketing arrangement with Forest Park, where both the hospital and doctor would appear in marketing materials. When asked whether the marketing arrangement was connected to the number of patients he referred there, he passionately denied that it was anything other than the flat fee allowed by law. “It’s not true,” he said. In all, Rimlawi received $8 million in marketing payments from Forest Park.

Dr. David Kim, a bariatric surgeon who graced billboards all over Dallas, pleaded guilty to receiving $4.5 million in kickbacks from Forest Park, as reported by the Dallas Morning News. Kim connected Rimlawi to a similar situation, which Rimlawi denied, saying Kim would have said anything to get rid of the feds. “I think Kim had a breakdown,” he testified.

Pfeifle also probed Rimlawi’s ex-girlfriend Haylee Gibson’s pharmaceutical company, which had a contract with Next Health Pharmacy and Andrew Hillman. Hillman has also pleaded guilty to his role in the Forest Park kickback scheme as well as his role in a $450 million scheme where he paid people in $50 gift cards to pee in cups in Whataburger bathrooms and sent the specimens to labs for unnecessary and expensive testing which they claimed was part of a wellness study. Rimlawi signed agreements with Hillman for Forest Park to distribute drugs through Gibson’s company, meaning her company made money for prescriptions that Rimlawi wrote. Pfeifle asked Rimlawi if he set the agreement up “so you can give [Gibson] an allowance,” but Rimlawi denied that as well as any financial benefit from Gibson.

Mesereau redirected the testimony back to Rimlawi’s work prescribing pain cream through the arrangement with Hillman and Gibson, and focused on how these creams were alternatives to addictive opioid painkillers. In regard to Wise Health System, Rimlawi said his surgeries dropped there because it was difficult to get to, and had nothing to do with marketing payments. Rimlawi denied ever asking for more money for referring more patients to Wise. “That’s not how it works,” he said.

The trial will continue next week.