Patients trooped to celebrity skin doctor David Morrow, sold on the free cosmetic surgeries he proffered.
Insurance will pay everything, the Rancho Mirage, Calif., cosmetic surgeon promised. Patients believed Morrow, and his scalpel swung like a hyper-energized samurai sword. The gambit worked. Morrow ransacked health insurers, billing them for $50 million. At least $25 million cascaded into his bank accounts.
Yet something was wrong. Insurance generally doesn’t pay for beautifying bodies. It’s elective surgery, normally without insurable medical need. Morrow camouflaged the plastic surgeries in a deep forest of false diagnoses.
Tummy tucks magically became insurable hernia repairs or abdominal reconstructions. Morrow billed nose jobs as fixing deviated septums. Breast lifts were surgeries for “tuberous breast deformities.”
Morrow also trumped up test results, medical notes and surgical records to back up his fantasy world. He even covered up the text of records for a patient’s “abdominoplasty” (tummy tuck) — hand-writing “umbilical & ventral hernias” on top of the original wording.
Some patients were pressured to get surgeries they didn’t want in exchange for “free” cosmetic upgrades. Patients still believed Morrow played by the rules, giving them honest surgery and lodging honest insurance billings.
Morrow could bill insurers anywhere from $150,00 for a single surgery to $700,000 for multiple procedures. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Make believe surgeries
On top of concealing cosmetic operations, Morrow also billed insurers for phantom surgeries. He stole patient names, medical information and signatures — their medical identities — and invented records that claimed successful surgeries the patients medically needed.
Morrow billed up to $150,750 for a single surgery, and as much as $700,000 if he foisted several procedures on a patient. Sadly for some patients, he botched their procedures. They ended up disfigured or were forced to live with ongoing discomfort.
Insurance money and beautified bodies made Morrow a wealthy celebrity surgeon. The now-shuttered Morrow Institute was his hub of, literally, operations. His former website called him “One of the top cosmetic surgeons in the world for skin and facial rejuvenation.”
Sharing the wealth
Pinterest postings are still active. They’re a self-congratulating trope to status, wealth and opulent living. Morrow created his own line of beauty cosmetics, and claimed the world’s first laser face lift. He and his wife, Linda, founded a Jewish day school, and donated heavily to the symphony and other cultural causes.
They spent comfortable off hours in their spacious $9.5 million mansion, and rumbled the roads in a fleet of cars.
The voluminous billings finally caught up with Morrow. Investigators and prosecutors dug into his records and unraveled the deception. Morrow pleaded guilty in federal court. He was scheduled for sentencing, except for one problem. He and Linda bolted before a court appearance and went on the run.
They’d sold the mansion and cars, and wired millions of dollars into secret bank accounts. Nobody knows where the Morrows are, although federal investigators are still hunting for them. The court handed Morrow 20 years in federal prison, in absentia, in late September 2017.
The Morrows lived in a $9.5 million house and benefited from their illegal activities until prosecutors caught up with them. (Photo: iStock)
Cosmetic surgery bills well
Rebranding cosmetic surgery to steal insurance money has a longer history.
Arthur Kissel and his wife Sonia LaFontaine ran cosmetic-surgery clinics in New York City, Toronto and other locales. They charged tummy tucks and liposuction as hernia repairs and lesion removals. Patients complained they used instruments that looked like soldering irons and scissors.
Joel Cunningham wanted to slim down so he could enter New York Police Department officer training. He died of a heart attack while undergoing liposuction.
Kissel and LaFontaine each received 10 years in federal prison in New York for charging insurers for cosmetic surgeries disguised as medical procedures and for mail fraud.
Dr. Lawrence Saks tried similar gambits in Torrance, Calif. Face lifts and tummy tucks became medical necessities such as tumor removals and hernia repairs in an $87,000 billing plot.
As for Morrow, the walls are closing in.
“After admitting guilt, he went on the lam in the hopes of avoiding punishment that was sure to come,” Acting U.S. Attorney Linda Brown said. “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.”