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Lab in Drug Case Erred in Filings, Doctor Says

Its former medical chief says BALCO overstated his role in documents to state health agency.

November 08, 2003|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

The former medical director of a laboratory tied to a major doping scandal said Friday that the lab exaggerated his role -- which, if true, permitted it to stay licensed and collect hundreds of thousands of state and federal health-care dollars.

Dr. Brian Hallevie-Goldman, who works as a child psychiatrist in Fairfield, Calif., said he was listed as the responsible medical official at BALCO Laboratories Inc. for almost two decades, although he had been only a part-time and sporadic consultant most of that time.

Goldman said he was mailing a letter to the state Department of Health Services this weekend, complaining that "a number of documents were filed with [the department] without my consent."

He said the letter was prompted when reporters from the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle showed him state licensing documents listing him as lab director but appearing to have someone else's signature.

Before a laboratory can be licensed to perform medical tests, it must document that it has a medical director to oversee the operations and assure quality. Without a license, state and federal officials said a laboratory cannot bill government health-care programs for reimbursements.

The federal Medicare program paid the lab a total of $610,529 from 1997 to 1999, according to figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times through a Freedom of Information Act request. The lab was removed from the program in May 2001 because it had not billed the program during the previous 12 months.

The state health department paid the lab $32,705 from 1997 to March 1999, according to the state controller's office.

BALCO received additional government health-care dollars in earlier years. And the federal government has sued the lab for reimbursement of more than $1 million in Medicare funds allegedly paid in 1995 and 1996 for needless trace mineral tests.

An attorney for BALCO President Victor Conte Jr. did not return a call seeking comment, but previously Conte and his attorney have denied that the lab has engaged in any wrongdoing in connection with the civil suit and criminal investigation.

State health department spokeswoman Lea Brooks said Friday the department had not heard directly from Goldman and cautioned that he was the only source of the allegations of improprieties in the licensing process.

The lab came to international prominence last month when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency publicly linked it to a previously undetectable designer steroid. A federal grand jury has been convened in San Francisco to investigate the lab's business activities, with dozens of athletes, including baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, subpoenaed to testify. Conte, who friends say has opposed steroid use, has denied that BALCO was the source of any illicit substance.

In the early 1980s, Goldman said he helped establish protocols for doctors to use mineral supplements to treat deficiencies found through BALCO's testing. He said his role diminished, and that he moved to Arkansas for more than a year in the mid-1990s.

He was listed as the medical director in a business plan that BALCO put out to attract potential investors in November 1989 -- the same month the lab was licensed by the state. As recently as Feb. 28 of this year, state records show that the lab submitted his signed declaration that he was "responsible for the accuracy and reliability of all testing performed by the laboratory."

Even though Medicare officials said Goldman was listed as medical director of BALCO since its inception, the doctor said that he was not fulfilling those duties and would not have taken on the liability to continue in that role all those years.

Goldman said Conte had apparently had trouble finding a successor for him, even though he suggested the names of a couple of colleagues. He said he was surprised to find that he still was being listed as medical director years after he discontinued that role.

"I was like a medical liaison," he said. "I took results to other doctors. I was listed as the person to call, but I did not get a call in the last decade or so from doctors.... I worked as an independent consultant and would come in on a day or afternoon every couple of years. Years would go by that I was not there."

After being licensed to perform tests for trace metals in the blood and urine, the lab had had some run-ins with state health officials. In 1993, the lab was ordered to cease testing women with silicon breast implants after complaints alleging false test results. In 1996, there were unsubstantiated complaints that the lab owner was changing test results and a secretary was initialing results performed by someone else.

In 2000, the health department found several deficiencies in quality control. And for several months early this year, the facility was unlicensed after failing to pay license renewal. Finally, on Sept. 22, the lab terminated its own license for financial reasons -- just a few weeks after federal agencies raided BALCO's offices south of San Francisco's airport.

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