Becoming a doctor isn’t easy. Even if you’ve got the smarts for it, you’ve got to go through 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, then 3-7 years of residency training before you are even eligible for medical licensing. But for those who want to devote their life to saving lives, it’s worth the work.
On top of that, being a doctor comes with perks. With that little “MD” on your license plate, you never have trouble parking around hospitals. And, oh yeah, if you look at any list of “top paying jobs,” the top spots are all different kinds of doctors…
While you’d be hard pressed to find a medical doctor pressed for cash, within the profession salaries can vary a lot, usually depending on how specialized the doctor is. While the average pay for a general practitioner is around $185,000, most dermatologists make somewhere north of $300,000.
In the Middle
Somewhere between the two are rheumatologists, the doctors who deal with immune related disorders like arthritis, osteoporosis, and lupus. On average, they live well on a salary of around $220,000, though a doctor with an especially large practice can make a lot more than that…
Dr. Zamora-Quezada was one of those rheumatologist with a thriving multi-office practice in southern Texas. Like most specialists in his field, the majority of the physician’s patients were older people with the fairly common afflictions that pop up after you can no longer count your decades on one hand.
He was an apparently skilled doctor and the fact that he was Latino and spoke fluent Spanish in an area with a large Spanish-speaking population didn’t hurt his number of patients at all. Because of the money his practice was bringing in, Dr. Zamora was living high on the hog, even for a doctor…
Real Estate Riches
To prove it, Dr. Zamora owned a number of expensive homes in exclusive locations throughout the United States and Mexico as well as a number of expensive commercial properties throughout Texas. While he would sometimes use them as vacation spots, he helped cover the costs by renting them out when he wasn’t around.
The good doctor also drove between his multiple offices in his custom Maserati, monogrammed with his initials “ZQ,” and that car was just one of several luxury vehicles in his collection. But what really pushed his lifestyle into the realm of “international superstar” as opposed to “wealthy doctor” was probably his million-dollar private jet, also sporting the monogrammed “ZQ” and which likely cost over a million dollars a year just to maintain…
Pattern of Complaints
Dr. Zamora was clearly making money in amounts far beyond that of a typical doctor, there had to be a reason for that beyond just having a great bedside manner. And when a number of his patients came forward with similar complaints, authorities began to look into his practice.
One of those patients was a woman named Maria Zapata. The 70-year-old had gone to Dr. Zamora because one of her knees had been bothering her. The doctor diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis and started giving her injections “to strengthen the cartilage” in her knee…
Worse, Not Better
But after several injections, Maria’s knee didn’t get any better and what’s worse, her legs were becoming discolored. Other doctors raised concerns about the treatments and her general practitioner told her she didn’t even have arthritis.
In a similar instance, a 16-year-old named Roselie Ibarra was sent to Dr. Zamora by her pediatrician after her mother voiced concerns about the popping sound her knees would make when the teenager squatted down…
Despite her young age, Roselie was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as well as slight scoliosis and anemia. Dr. Zamora prescribed vitamins, a pain patch and hydrocodone and had her come in for regular blood tests and X-rays. He also wanted to give her regular injections but Roselie only allowed it once, saying “I wasn’t in pain and didn’t feel like I needed them.”
4 years later, when she moved out of state to join the military, a follow up with another doctor showed absolutely no signs of arthritis. Maria and Roselie were far from the only patients of Dr. Zamoras with stories like this. He’d even been reprimanded by the Texas Medical Board in 2009 for conducting excessive tests without basis, but this was on another level…
What started as a local investigation uncovered so many complaints and possibly illegal actions that the authorities brought in the FBI to form a joint task force and properly investigate the doctor. What they uncovered was a staggering $240 million worth of fraud.
To bolster his income, Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada had not only done excessive and unnecessary testing on his patients and submitted fraudulent claims to health care benefit programs, he’d been giving people treatments — some of them potentially dangerous — for conditions and diseases they never had, according to the task force…
In addition to unnecessary vitamins and injections, he’d also gone so far as to give some of his patients chemotherapy and other toxic and damaging treatments. The 61-year-old was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, five counts of healthcare fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Out of the $240 million bilked from patients, insurance companies, and the taxpayer, roughly $50 million of it went directly into Dr. Zamora’s pocket. He then passed that money through an extensive international money-laundering scheme operating out of the US and Mexico and used his cut to live his extremely lavish lifestyle…
Taking It Back
Like all good things, Dr. Zamora’s big-spender, jet setting lifestyle may be coming to an end, if the Department of Justice has its way. They are seeking forfeiture of his million-dollar jet, his fancy cars, his luxury properties, the works…
Those forfeitures would go towards covering the hundreds of millions of dollars in fines he would owe if found guilty. On top of the fines, Dr. Zamora could be facing some serious prison time. Should the judge choose to make an example of him, he could be locked away for life on the health care fraud charges alone…
All Too Common
While Dr. Zamora’s actions and the amount of money he stole from his patients and the public is staggering, that kind of crime is unfortunately far from uncommon. According to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, health care fraud costs the American taxpayers about $68 billion dollars annually, and that’s a conservative estimate.
Breach of Trust
Perhaps worse than the money stolen are the people whose health were directly impacted by his malpractice. “It makes me feel bad, because you go to a doctor trusting in them,” said one former patient. “I felt bad because he was practically inventing things.” Not only did he violate his patients trust, some of them were even made less healthy by his bogus treatments.