State Bar Court Review Department Recommends Disbarment of Lawyer Implicated in ‘Capping’
By KENNETH OFGANG, 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 disbarment, the State Bar Court Review Department has ruled.
In an opinion filed April 27 and made public yesterday, the department concluded on reconsideration that Tamir Oheb’s dealings with an ex-lawyer who “capped” personal injury cases for him warranted the loss of Oheb’s right to practice even though Oheb did not know that the accidents were being staged.
The ruling is a turnaround from the panel’s decision two years ago to rejected disbarment and impose a two-year suspension instead. The State Bar successfully petitioned the state Supreme Court for review, the high court directing that the panel weigh the appropriate level of discipline under Standard 3.2 of the Standards for Attorney Sanctions for Professional Misconduct.
The standard reads, in part:
“Final conviction of a member of a crime which involves moral turpitude, either inherently or in the facts and circumstances surrounding the crime’s commission shall result in disbarment. Only if the most compelling mitigating circumstances clearly predominate, shall disbarment not be imposed.”
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 State Bar Hearing Judge Robert 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 pay 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, Presiding Judge Ronald Stovitz explained for the Review Department, 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.
But Stovitz agreed with bar counsel that Oheb failed to show the “most compelling mitigating circumstances” that would spare him from disbarment under Standard 3.2.
The jurist wrote:
“It was purely fortuitous that more harm did not occur as a result of the facts and circumstances surrounding respondent’s criminal offense, given especially that the accident claims pressed in the name of respondent’s office appear to have arisen from fraud and that respondent’s conduct was both grossly reckless in a number of ways and, by disguising financial entries, intentionally dishonest. As the overriding purposes of lawyer discipline are to protect the public, maintain high professional standards and preserve the integrity of the legal profession...disbarment is appropriate....”
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company