A billboard for the Lap Band over the 210 freeway.
The owners of the weight-loss surgery centers named in several wrongful death lawsuits and in investigations for medical fraud have stopped soliciting money online for a charity they’ve started that has not secured non-profit status.
Brother Julian and Michael Omidi are owners of 11 weight loss surgery centers in California affiliated with the popular 1-800-GET-THIN campaign that are at the center of numerous investigations and lawsuits.
KPCC reported last week that former physician Julian Omidi — whose license was stripped by the California Medical Board — and his brother Dr. Michael Omidi — who recently completed a three-year probation imposed by the medical board — were seeking PayPal donations for an organization they created called No More Poverty.
On the No More Poverty website, the group is described as a non-profit charity that supports other non-profits around the world. KPCC has learned that action violated state law governing charities, because the website failed to disclose that the organization has not been granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. A spokeswoman for No More Poverty said the organization has sent its application to the IRS, but she did not provide KPCC a copy of the document.
“You have to register for that, and there are standards that have to be met for you to get those approvals,” said Ken Berger, president and CEO of CharityNavigator.org, a national non-profit organization that rates charities and helps donors make informed decisions about giving.
He says the IRS tax exemption — known as a 501(c)(3) designation — is how people can confirm their donation will qualify as a tax writeoff.
“That's step one, because if it doesn’t have that right off the bat, you’re not going to get a tax deduction to begin with — to say nothing of the trustworthiness of the organization,” Berger said.
Last week, KPCC reported that four groups the No More Poverty website named as charities it supports were all unfamiliar with the Omidis' organization. Several requested that their names be removed from the NMP website, which has occurred, along with removal of the PayPal donations section this week.
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.