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UCLA surgeon sued for benefiting from his own charity

The professor founded and primarily funded the foundation himself. But the university and state attorney general say he and other board members have used the charity's funds for personal gain.

September 10, 2009|Raja Abdulrahim

A UCLA School of Medicine professor of cardiothoracic surgery is being sued by the state attorney general for allegedly using money from a research charity he founded to fund his personal business ventures and medical research activities.

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown filed the lawsuit Wednesday against Dr. Gerald D. Buckberg and five officers of the nonprofit L.B. Research & Education Foundation, citing California law that bars a charity's director, officer or board member from benefiting from the organization's income or assets.

The officers improperly used charity funds to finance their own medical research or research by companies in which they had a financial interest, and to manufacture medical devices they sold, according to the attorney general's office.

Brown is seeking to recover more than $500,000 in misappropriated funds. He also wants to dissolve the charity and prevent the defendants from running the organization until they provide detailed accounting statements.

"The investigation by the attorney general's office is a result of evidence presented to them by UCLA," said university spokesman Phil Hampton.

The investigation was launched in 2007 and turned up a number of inappropriate uses of the foundation's funds.

For example, Buckberg used $120,000 in donations to produce an educational DVD. The rights to the DVD belong to a company owned by Buckberg.

In 2003, Buckberg used $15,000 to pay a company he owns to build plastic heart models, which he then sold.

In 2000, the charity donated $1 million to UCLA to establish an endowed faculty chair that Buckberg applied for. When his application was rejected, L.B. Research sued UCLA. Roughly $300,000 of the foundation's assets have since been used to pay for the lawsuit.

As a result of the lawsuit, UCLA discovered that Buck- berg was the source of the $1 million donation and that he conspired to ensure he would be named to the faculty chair, according to a statement released by UCLA. This prompted the regents of the University of California to ask the attorney general to sue the foundation because of "self-dealing and other wrongdoing at L.B."

Buckberg, who serves as a director of the foundation, started the research charity in 1997 and primarily funded it himself with about $3 million. But the charity did receive about $130,000 in donations, officials said.

"You can't then turn around and use the charity's money for your benefit," said Scott Gerber, a spokesman with the attorney general's office. "The source of the funds is irrelevant, you still can't use the charity's funds for the personal benefit of the directors."

Gerber declined to say whether Buckberg had taken tax deductions for his donations to the foundation. Buck- berg did not respond to calls Wednesday.

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raja.abdulrahim@latimes.com

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