Cosmetic surgery clinics' owner pleads guilty to fraud
Patient Died; Unlicensed man ran operations with wife in Canada and U. S.
Published: Saturday, September 05, 2009
A man who ran successful cosmetic surgery clinics in Canada and the United States where patients complained of unlicensed and botched procedures — including a woman dying after liposuction and a mole being removed with a pair of scissors against a patient's will–pleaded guilty to health insurance fraud yesterday.
The guilty plea in a New York courtroom comes 11 years after Arthur Kissel, an American citizen who is also known as Arthur Froom, was indicted alongside his Canadian wife by U. S. authorities.
Kissel, 55, fought vociferously to remain in Canada — including making a claim for refugee status on political grounds — while his wife, Sonia LaFontaine, faced justice in the United States.
Kissel and LaFontaine ran Lafontaine-Riche Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Care Centre in Toronto and other affiliated clinics in the United States, including one in New York City.
The money poured in.
In 1995, one day after fraud investigators visited their clinic in New York, the couple opened an account with the TD Bank in Toronto and wired almost US$250,000 to it. A year later, again one day after being contacted by authorities with concerns, another US$100,000 was wired to the Canadian account with a further $150,000 following over a few months.
In 1997, they bought a $500,000 home in Florida in the name of their Canadian company.
Although health insurance investigators had raised suspicions about the clinic's billings, significantly more attention came in 1998 when a woman died after undergoing liposuction at their New York clinic.
Investigators found that LaFontaine did not have a medical licence and was not acting under a physician's supervision. The clinic also billed cosmetic procedures such as tummy-tucks and liposuction as medically necessary procedures such as hernia repairs and lesion removals, submitted claims to insurance companies for procedures that were not done, and exaggerated the complexity and number of procedures done on insurance claims.
After being told of the U. S. charges, Toronto police arrested Kissel in 1998 on an immigration warrant for working in Canada illegally.
“Absolutely 100% innocent, no question about it,” he told National Post in 2000.
LaFontaine was also emphatic about her medical calling when she told a reporter that she dedicated her life to making people look better after she had a nose job herself at the age of 17.
“I guess God gave me a gift, that I can see the way that a person could change for the better,” she said.
At her trial in 2000, however, patients complained of having procedures done with instruments that looked like soldering irons and scissors after high-pressure sales tactics and even demands that the procedure not be done. She was found guilty of fraud charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
She served her sentence while her husband appealed his extradition in every venue he could. It took a decade of legal wrangling before his extradition to the United States last summer, a move that sent him to a U. S. prison around the same time his wife, having completed her sentence, was released.
Yesterday he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, health-care fraud and mail fraud. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a hefty fine. He is scheduled to be sentenced in December.