Doctor Goes on the Lam After Saying Plastic Surgeries Were Emergency Procedures
He passed off tummy tucks as hernia surgery, raked in millions, then disappeared.
Dr. David Morrow disguised plastic surgery as life-saving medical procedures, raked in over $20 million in fraudulent insurance claims at his Beverly Hills clinic, and went on the lam.
In 2016, Morrow, a dermatologist-turned-plastic surgeon pleaded guilty to an elaborate and lucrative insurance scheme. Morrow’s clinic performed plastic surgeries, most of which are not covered by insurance. Instead, Morrow falsified medical records to pass off cosmetic surgeries like tummy tucks as emergency procedures like hernia repair, and sending insurance companies massive bills for the procedures, which he described as medically necessary.
But between pleading guilty and his sentencing on Sept. 29, the 72-year-old fraud sold his $9.45 million California home without notifying officials, and disappeared. He’s still on the run.
Before there were court filings, there were whispers on internet message boards. A 2006 website dedicated to trashing Morrow as “a truly evil asshole” racked up over 100 comments from anonymous users, some of whom claimed to have been unhappy customers.
Court filings suggest some possible sources of customer complaints. According to a 2006 criminal complaint, Morrow and his associates would pressure customers into undergoing multiple cosmetic surgeries at once, telling them the procedures could be free or discounted if they combined them.
But behind the scenes, Morrow was using those plastic surgeries to make millions in fraudulent insurance claims. On insurance forms, Morrow would describe optional cosmetic surgeries as medically necessary procedures, on which he could receive an insurance refund. Tummy tucks were listed as surgeries to repair “umbilical & ventral hernias.” Breast augmentations became “tuberous breast deformity” operations. Nose jobs were marked as deviated septum corrections.
Prosecutors say patients did not understand learn the full details of their procedures, resulting in “ongoing medical problems or disfigurement” for some patients. Prosecutors also alleged that Morrow had paid a patient to undergo surgeries, knowing that the insurance company would give him an even larger payout.
“Ins is where the $ is,” Morrow emailed his wife in 2009, referring to insurance, according to court documents.
In another email to a colleague, Morrow wrote that everyone having tummy tuck surgery “will have one ‘sort’ of ventral hernia or another. I will try to ‘rotate’ thing[s] a little to not make us look one dimensional or ‘fake.’”
Morrow and associates submitted $80 million in fake insurance claims, $20 million of which insurance companies paid out to them.
In March 2016, Morrow pleaded guilty to fraud. He was allowed to stay in his home until his September 2017 sentencing. But unbeknown to officials, Morrow and his wife sold that $9.45 million Beverly Hills home, along with several cars.
By the time of Morrow’s sentencing on Sept. 29, the disgraced doctor was AWOL.
“This defendant was a successful doctor who owned a medical clinic and multiple valuable residences, yet he engaged in a scheme designed to steal tens of millions of dollars from insurance companies by tricking them into paying for cosmetic surgery,” acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said in a statement. “After admitting guilt, he went on the lam in the hopes of avoiding the punishment that was sure to come.
A judge slapped Morrow with 20 years in federal prison—if he’s caught. Commenters on the 2006 website dedicated to Morrow’s downfall speculate that he may have fled the country with his wife, who is also facing charges.
“When he is taken into custody—and he will definitely be captured—he will serve the lengthy sentence he deserves as a result of his greed and fraud,” Brown said.