Doctor fakes death in Russia to avoid U.S. health charges

Just a small favor, Dr. Tigran Svadjian begged the feds. He was cornered for allegedly stealing nearly $2.5 million from California’s state-run health insurer. He was mixed up with a suspected Armenian mob-related medical fraud ring.

The Newport Beach physician told prosecutors he’d plead guilty, and agreed to go undercover by wearing a wire in conversations with suspected ring cohorts.

He just needed time to visit his ailing mother in Russia. Sure, why not, the feds agreed. So Svadjian hopped a flight to Moscow. The feds soon received a death certificate from Russia. Svadjian suddenly died of pneumonia on a Moscow street. Case over, end of a convincing health-fraud prosecution, it seemed.

In fact, Svadjian faked his death to avoid being hauled into the courtroom. He went on the run for 10 years — even starting a new family — before being snagged in the Ukraine for using a fake passport.

Mixed up with mob figures

Let’s start at the beginning. … The Armenian immigrant got mixed up with medical providers that had suspected ties to the Armenian and Russian mob in California. The state was probing their operation allegedly for falsely billing Medi-Cal $13 million for medical tests and procedures.

Svadjian denied wrongdoing, yet provided only a handful of the 200 medical records the state requested. Nor could he account for 94 percent of his claimed medical treatments, officials say. Some patients he claimed to treat were dead. The feds soon investigated before allowing his fateful escape.

Once in Moscow, Svadjian bribed a Russian police officer $200 to get a fake death certificate from a Moscow morgue. More bribery earned him a new identity and passport as Vasily Petrosov.

His grieving wife Emilya, meanwhile, received what she believed were Svadjian’s ashes and death certificate. He left her to battle creditors trying to liquidate assets to pay off his debts.

Had child with Russian

Svadjian set himself up as a scuba instructor in an Egyptian resort town on the Black Sea coast. He fell for a Russian woman, and they had a child. Another child was on the way.

She flew back to Russia for a Caesarian childbirth. Svadjian wanted to join her. He forged yet another passport as Viktoras Cajevkis, a Lithuanian. Authorities in the Ukraine spotted the fake document and shipped him back to Egypt. Suspicious, Egyptian investigators dug into his records and discovered his real identity. Svadjian was packed off to the U.S. for prosecution.

He was inches from a fraud guilty plea before pulling that harrowing escape from the judge’s gavel back in 2002.

Svadjian made a second escape back in California after his re-arrest. Prosecutors thought he’d died, and they discarded the fraud evidence they’d carefully built up. So the federal judge instead handed Svadjian just 2 1/2 years in federal prison in March 2017 — for fleeing justice.

“Did the defendant get away with his (health-fraud) scheme? Yes, Mr. Svadjian, to a degree you were successful,” Judge Michael Fitzgerald said in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. “You deserve 60 months.”