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Probers Urge That Starr Be Charged With Conflict

November 20, 1986|MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Investigators in the state attorney general's Medi-Cal Fraud Unit have urged that Robert (Nick) Starr, a former member of the state Medical Assistance Commission, be prosecuted on charges of violating conflict-of-interest laws.

Dennis Cowan, a supervising investigator for the unit in Los Angeles, said Wednesday that the recommendation was made to Deputy Atty. Gen. John Dratz, who is reviewing the case and will decide whether to file criminal charges against Starr, 53, a Ventura resident. The decision may be made within the next two weeks, Cowan said.

Cowan cautioned that the recommendation, which follows a several months-long investigation, "doesn't necessarily mean a criminal complaint will follow or that any complaint will follow."

The attorney general's office announced in July that it was investigating whether Starr had hidden interests in any medical groups that stood to profit from a proposed state health-care program over which he had authority.

Starr, who owned a North Hollywood medical laboratory, was one of the first people appointed to the Medical Assistance Commission when it was set up in 1983. It was established to help reduce soaring costs of Medi-Cal, the state's health-care program for the needy.

One way the commission hoped to trim costs was by establishing a pilot project called Expanded Choice, which would have required 250,000 Medi-Cal recipients in the San Fernando Valley area and San Diego to enroll in health-maintenance organizations.

The attorney general's office said the investigation focused on whether Starr hoped to profit from the program, which was scrapped before it could begin this year. Starr was chairman of the state commission's committee overseeing Expanded Choice before his term on the commission ended last spring.

The state inquiry into Starr's actions was triggered by allegations made in a lawsuit over the split-up of a small medical group that rented space in a North Hollywood building owned by Starr. A physician who invested in the group said he decided to invest only after Starr promised him that the group would get patients through Expanded Choice. Starr was not a party to the suit.

Cowan said he could not provide any details of the case. But Dratz said that, "if there's anything" to the case, "there could be a conspiracy to violate" the conflict-of-interest law.

Several dozen people were questioned about Starr's actions as a commissioner, Cowan said. An interview with Starr is pending, he said.

But Starr said Wednesday that he has not been asked to talk to the investigators. Starr said he did nothing that was a conflict of interest.

Starr said that, when the investigation was launched last summer, "I denied it. And I deny it now.

"This is the first I've heard about" the investigators' recommendations, he said.

"It's obvious," he said, that the investigators "talk to the press first. . . . Wouldn't you think that's unusual?"

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