Intended Recipient of Liver was Removed From Wait List and Later Died
A Los Angeles surgeon who was the director of the liver transplant program at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles was indicted today by a federal grand jury for lying to the national organ transplant network after a liver accepted on behalf of one patient was instead transplanted into another patient who was significantly lower on the national wait list.
Dr. Richard R. Lopez Jr., 54, who resides in the Cheviot Hills area of West Los Angeles, was named today in an eight-count indictment that accuses him of conspiracy, one counts of concealment of a material fact, and six counts of falsification of records in a matter under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the indictment, in September 2003, St. Vincent was offered a liver for a St. Vincent patient, identified as A-H, who ranked second on the match list for that liver, but who was in his home country of Saudi Arabia. The backup patient for the liver was at another local hospital. Instead of advising the organ procurement organization of the intended switch and allowing the organ to be offered to the backup patient, Lopez approved acceptance of the liver and its transplantation into a patient at St. Vincent – a patient identified in the indictment as A-B, who was ranked 52nd on the match list behind nine other St. Vincent patients.
After A-B received the liver, Lopez and his co-conspirators falsely told authorities at the national organ transplant network that A-H had received the liver, and later submitted a falsified pathology report on A-H’s “explanted” (removed) liver. As a result of the false reporting, A-H was removed from the liver transplant wait list in September 2003, and was thereafter deprived of the opportunity to have this life-saving operation, according the indictment. However, Lopez continued to tell A-H that he was on the liver transplant wait list and instructed A-H return to the United States in April 2004, when A-H was found to be too ill to be transplanted. He subsequently returned to Saudi Arabia, where he later died.
The indictment alleges that in reports filed until 2005 with the authorities operating the national organ transplant network, Lopez and unnamed co-conspirators continued to maintain the fiction that A-H had received the liver transplant. In 2005, the switch and cover-up were discovered by senior management at St. Vincent, and the matter was reported to authorities. Lopez has not been associated with St. Vincent since late 2005. The hospital has fully cooperated with federal authorities since the beginning of the investigation.
“The significance of this indictment cannot be overstated in that this type of criminal activity affects the public’s trust in the organ transplant process, one in which organs are distributed in a fair and equitable manner,” said Steven M. Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI will continue to work with our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate cases such as this, where the alleged actions of the defendant directly factored into the death of the rightful organ recipient, who might be alive today had he not been improperly removed from the wait list.”
Seven of the eight counts in the indictment relate to the false reporting of the recipient of the liver offered for A-H. The last count relates to another incident in which a liver was switched to a different recipient and, following the transplant, Lopez misrepresented the circumstances of the switch.
“Violating federal organ transplant rules and then taking steps to cover up his actions, Dr. Lopez exposed the public to substantial risk,” said Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent in Charge for the Los Angeles Region of the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health of Human Services. “This case sends a strong message that doctors must follow the rules in place to protect patients. OIG will continue to work with our partners to preserve the integrity of the organ transplant network.”
Lopez is scheduled to make his initial court appearance in United States District Court in Los Angeles on January 25.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
If convicted of the eight counts in the indictment, Lopez faces a statutory maximum penalty of 130 years in federal prison.
The case was investigated by agents from the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Consuelo S. Woodhead
Health Care Fraud Coordinator