Health: Fertility doctor left to face music in insurance firm fraud case

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The Independent Online
A fertility clinic doctor tied to one of the biggest medical scandals in US history was to go on trial in a California courtroom yesterday. But he did not face charges in the simple theft of women's eggs.

With his two former colleagues now plying their trade in Mexico and Chile, Dr Sergio Stone, a 55-year-old endocrinologist was left to face the music for one of the most outrageous stories in the annals of American medicine.

Dr Stone could face a lengthy jail term after a US investigation of the University of California clinic where women's eggs and embryos were allegedly transplanted into other women without their consent. The jury in what is expected to be a six-week trial, however, may never hear details of the convoluted scandal.

He is charged with 20 counts of mail and income tax fraud, each carrying five-year terms, after the inquiry revealed an unrelated scheme to defraud insurance companies, it is alleged. His lawyers say he is being made a scapegoat.

It was in 1993 that university officials heard the first complaints from disgruntled staff that something was amiss at the university's Centre for Reproductive Health in Irvine, California. A story emerged of eggs harvested from women seeking fertility treatments that were fertilised and then implanted in other patients, or shipped to medical research laboratories without their knowledge.

Dr Stone and his former colleagues, Dr Ricardo Asch and Dr Jose Balmaceda, were indicted by a grand jury last year, on charges that they "routinely skimmed cash from the fertility clinics by using deceptive internal accounting practices".

But there are no extradition proceedings under way, and there was speculation yesterday that Dr Stone, who denies the charges, was paying the price for being the only one left on the scene.