RMC criminal and civil cases settled
By Maline Hazle, Record Searchlight
November 15, 2005

SACRAMENTO – A massive and complex agreement announced today settles all criminal and civil allegations in the three-year-old investigation of suspected unnecessary coronary procedures performed for profit at Redding Medical Center. 

Alhough they agreed to pay $1.4 million each to the federal government, the two primary suspects in the criminal case, doctors Chae Hyun Moon and Fidel Realyvasquez Jr., admitted no wrongdoing. 

A third doctor, cardiovascular surgeon Kent Brusett of Redding, agreed to pay $250,000. 

Moon, 58, was chief of cardiology at RMC, while Realyvasquez, 57, was chief cardiac surgeon at the hospital. 

The wide-ranging settlement, also awards millions of dollars to whistleblowers, including Redding internist Patrick Campbell, who provided much of the information that prompted a Oct. 30, 2002, FBI raid that opened the probe. 

The settlement effectively ends the federal grand jury investigation that followed the raids on RMC and offices of the cardiologist and the surgeons. 

Federal attorneys announced the settlement at a 10:30 news conference this morning. 

It is the second time federal attorneys have reached a settlement in a probe that rocked Redding’s medical establishment. 

In August 2003, RMC and its parent, Tenet Healthcare Corp., agreed to pay the federal government $54 million to settle the allegations. 

But that settlement did not protect the heart specialists or any other RMC or corporate employees and executives from civil prosecution. 

Today’s agreement does just that. 

Under the new agreement Tenet, which sold RMC a year and a half ago, agreed to pay another $5.5 million on behalf of itself and the hospital. 

In addition, Tenet and RMC will pay $1 million to settle a case involving allegations of violations of the California Insurance Code. 

Realyvasquez, Brusett and cardiac surgeon Ricardo Javier Moreno-Cabral and their Cardiac, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery Medical Group in Redding, also agreed to authorize their insurance carrier to pay $24 million to 642 patients who claim they underwent unnecessary bypass surgeries at RMC. 

Those civil suits were part of a larger suit against both the surgeons and Moon’s group of cardiologists. 

The cardiologists’ insurance company last year paid $24 million to settle their portion of that civil suit, which involved a total of 769 patients. Tenet and RMC paid another $395 million to end their civil liability. 

In a separate but related part of today’s settlement, whistleblowers Joseph Zerga, of Las Vegas, and the Rev. John Corapi, a Catholic priest who now lives in Montana, each received $2,712,281. 

Campbell, who once had been ruled out of the running for whistleblower status and sued, agreed to accept $4,457,938. 
From the settlement payments the government promised a $419,933 payment to the state of California. 

The settlement prohibits Moon and Realyvasquez from performing any cardiac procedures or surgeries on Medicare, Medi-Cal or TRICARE patients. 

It also allows the federal government to explore the possibility of excluding Moon, Realyvasquez, Moreno-Cabral and Brusett from participation in federal or state health care programs. 

But the agreement stipulates that federal authorities will not "initiate or prosecute" the doctors or their corporations for "any allegedly unnecessary cardiac procedures or surgeries, outlier payments, kickbacks or relocation agreements." 

The settlement is described in a letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hirst to the two federal judges who had been overseeing the civil and criminal procedures. 

The agreement provides that the doctors and their medical corporations "deny liability and that settlement is not an admission of liability, nor an admission of law or facts by the settling parties," the letter said. 

Federal attorneys said the settlement does not preclude the California Medical Board from investigating or taking action against the doctors’ licenses. 

After the board began an investigation in the wake of the 2002 federal raid, Moon voluntarily ceased practicing, but no action was taken against the other doctors. 

City Editor Maline Hazle can be reached at 530-225-8233 or at .

Note:  Shasta County District Attorney McGregor Scott
was on Mercy Board; now U.S. Attorney - Eastern District

 Three Strikes Legal - Index