Thursday, July 22, 2004
Disbarment Rejected for Valley Lawyer in Insurance Fraud Scheme
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The misconduct of a Tarzana attorney who pled no contest to two felonies in connection with a wide-ranging insurance fraud scheme warrants suspension, but not the disbarment proposed by the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, the State Bar Court Review Department has ruled.
In an opinion by Presiding Judge Ronald Stovitz, the panel adopted Hearing Judge Robert Talcott’s findings that Tamir Oheb violated several ethics rules in his dealings with an ex-lawyer who “capped” personal injury cases for him but did not know that the accidents were being staged.
Oheb was one of dozens of people implicated in “Operation MedPay,” a six-month probe of attorneys and chiropractors involved in orchestrating crashes and filing up to $5 million in false claims. Participants eventually admitted that the cars were crashed in garages, with the purported drivers and passengers who brought claims not even present.
Chuck Quackenbush, state insurance commissioner when the first arrests were made in 1998, said the scam unraveled as a result of a marital dispute between two claimants, one of whom turned the other in, leading both to confess.
Among the first people arrested were two chiropractors, Richard Monoson of Woodland Hills and Keith Ohanesian of Sherman Oaks.
Oheb admitted before Talcott that he was brought into the scheme after Monoson introduced him to Kenneth Gottlieb. While he was told that Gottlieb resigned from the State Bar with charges pending, Oheb said, he did not know that the ex-Los Angeles attorney had served a prison term for insurance fraud.
Oheb was initially charged with 36 counts of insurance fraud, conspiracy, and capping. But he eventually pled no contest to two counts of recklessly accepting referrals without regard to whether the clients or the referring individuals intended to commit insurance fraud, a crime defined by Insurance Code Sec. 549.
The charges involved two staged accidents that caused four insurance companies to paid out $155,000 in claims. Oheb entered his plea in September 2000 and was placed on probation, with conditions that included 60 days in jail and $40,000 in restitution.
He was placed on interim State Bar suspension in 2001, and the matter was referred to Talcott for a hearing, at which Oheb admitted that he entered into a fee-splitting arrangement with Gottlieb, even though he knew that sharing fees with nonlawyers violates the Rules of Professional Conduct. Oheb paid Gottlieb between 50 and 75 percent of his fees on cases that Gottlieb brought to him.
Oheb claimed he did not know that Gottlieb was paying for the cases, but Gottlieb testified otherwise. Talcott and the Review Department both found that Oheb was not credible on that issue.
But the hearing and review judges agreed that Oheb did not know that the accidents were staged. Not only did Oheb so testify, Stovitz explained, but Gottlieb credibly testified—as did Monoson’s office manager, who reached a plea bargain once his own role in the scheme was exposed—that Oheb was not told that the accidents were being staged because it was not clear that he would continue to cooperate if he knew the scope of the deception.
While Oheb engaged in misconduct constituting moral turpitude, Stovitz concluded, his conduct is similar to that for which lawyers have historically been suspended rather than disbarred.
Because he has been on interim suspension for more than two years, the panel held, Oheb should be allowed to resume the practice of law upon proof of rehabilitation. But if the state Supreme Court accepts the panel’s determination, the review judges said, Oheb will have to serve four years on probation, with conditions that include repayment of the remaining $115,000 in restitution to the insurance companies, plus interest from the date of his plea agreement.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company