SANTA ANA – A former hospital executive from Corona del Mar who admitted bribing a state senator and paying millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks appeared in federal court Monday for the first time.
Michael D. Drobot Sr., 69, has agreed to plead guilty to two charges – conspiracy and payment of kickbacks – and to cooperate with the federal prosecution of Sen. Ronald Calderon.
But in what the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a formality, Drobot, the former CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, appeared before a magistrate judge Monday and pleaded not guilty.
His lawyer, Jeffrey Rutherford, said Drobot entered that plea only because the magistrate cannot accept a guilty plea in such a case. Drobot is expected to plead guilty at his next court date, which has not been scheduled but could be in about two weeks, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, attorneys in a separate civil prosecution against Drobot, his son and related companies were also in federal court in Santa Ana on Monday. A lawyer for Drobot’s son, pharmacy sales executive Michael R. Drobot Jr., said he could face criminal charges.
In February, Drobot Sr. signed a plea agreement admitting he helped pay $20 million to $50 million in kickbacks to doctors, chiropractors and others who referred patients to his hospital for spinal surgeries.
In the plea agreement, Drobot Sr. also said he paid Calderon bribes so the senator would support legislation that made the kickback scheme easier. The bribes included golf outings, private plane flights and expensive dinners, the plea agreement says.
Calderon has pleaded not guilty to charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, tax fraud, bribery and money laundering. His brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, pleaded not guilty to similar charges.
In the civil case, which was filed before the criminal prosecution, the State CompensationInsurance Fund accuses the Drobots and their companies of “massive workers’ compensation fraud.” The lawsuit says the Drobots inflated the prices of spinal implants and medication and got reimbursements that cost the state fund millions or hundreds of millions of dollars.
Nicholas Roxborough, a lawyer for Drobot Jr., is seeking to delay part of the civil case by six months because his client is facing possible criminal charges. Roxborough said Drobot Jr. should not have to show up to a deposition and be forced to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege to remain silent when that silence can be used against him in a civil case.
A lawyer for the State Compensation Insurance Fund, John Hueston, said the defendants have asserted the Fifth Amendment “frivolously” and too broadly. Hueston said Drobot Jr.’s lawyer has “stonewalled” discovery, the process in which the two sides of a case must exchange information.
Hueston said a delay could push back a trial date set for February.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford did not issue a ruling Monday.
By ERIC HARTLEY / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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