1-800 GET THIN surgery center owners set up organization, solicit donations

1-800-get-thin billboard

Corey Bridwell/KPCC

A billboard for the Lap Band over the 210 freeway.

Two Los Angeles brothers who are at the center of medical fraud investigations and wrongful death lawsuits are now soliciting donations for what they say is a new charity to help the poor around the world.

Dr. Michael Omidi and his brother, Julian, a former physician whose license was stripped by the California Medical Board, have launched an organization called No More Poverty. And according to the mission statement on the group’s website, it’s a nonprofit charity formed “in order to put an end to a social injustice they feel cannot stand.”

The brothers are owners of 11 weight loss surgery centers affiliated with the popular 1-800-GET THIN campaign that is at the center of numerous investigations and lawsuits.

On the home page at NMP.org, there is a Paypal donations section and a listing of organizations titled “Charities We Support.” But officials at those three listed organizations told KPCC they aren’t familiar with No More Poverty.

A fourth organization that had been listed, ReSurge International of Mountain View, California, recently asked for its name to be removed from the No More Poverty website.

"In mid-May of this year we received a donation from Dr. Michael Omidi as an individual and the next we heard was about six weeks later when the No More Poverty foundation called us and asked if they could be added to our website as a donor," says Susan Hayes, the president and CEO of the 43-year-old organization. ReSurge International provides free reconstructive surgery for the poor worldwide.

Hayes says that call was followed by a voice mail message this week from someone at the organization asking if ReSurge would like to participate with No More Poverty in a nonprofit fundraising campaign.

"Before we returned that call, we got a Google alert that showed us that they had gone ahead and listed ReSurge International as a foundation partner," says Hayes. "At that same time we became aware of the publicity that had been surrounding Dr. Omidi."

Hayes says after discovering news about the investigation into the brothers and their Lap Band surgery centers, ReSurge returned Michael Omidi’s $2,000 personal donation on Thursday and asked that the group immediately remove ReSurge from the No More Poverty website.

Officials at the three organizations that remain on the Omidis' website--Los Angeles-based Sinai Temple; New-York based Hadassah and Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills--say they also are unfamiliar with the No More Poverty organization.

However Sinai Temple reports a $15,000 personal donation from Michael, Julian and their mother Cindy Omidi on May 16, 2012 - two weeks before the No More Poverty organization filed its articles of incorporation with the California Secretary of State's office. An official at Temple Emanuel confirmed the Omidis have donated personally to his organization. Calls to the No More Poverty publicist were not returned.

At least five patients are known to have died after having Lap Band surgery at the Omidis' clinics. As a result they now face several wrongful death claims and an LAPD Robbery-Homicide investigation into one of the deaths. Additionally, the California Department of Insurance has launched a fraud probe into the surgery centers, as have at least two large insurance companies.

The brothers are facing various other civil claims including allegations of identity theft and false medical billing and several accusations of unsanitary conditions within the surgery centers, including one that may have exposed patients to Hepatitis C. Attorneys for the surgery centers have denied all accusations.

Correction: An earlier version of this story's headline said that the organization was a nonprofit, which is incorrect.

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