A neurosurgeon who accepted more than $3 million in bribes for performing spinal surgeries at a now-defunct Long Beach hospital pleaded guilty Thursday, Sept. 1.

Lokesh Tantuwaya, a San Diego resident, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and to violate the federal Anti-Kickback statute, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

From 2010 to 2013, Tantuwaya, 55, accepted money from Michael Drobot, who owned Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, in exchange for performing spinal surgeries there. The bribes he accepted varied in amount depending on the operation, prosecutors said.

Drobot was was imprisoned in 2018 for committing a massive workers’ compensation system scam during his time as the owner. He had conspired with doctors, chiropractors and marketers from 2013 to 2018 to pay kickbacks and bribes in return for the referral of thousands of patients to Pacific Hospital for spinal surgeries and other medical services. The scheme resulted in the submission of more than $500 million in medical bills for spine surgeries involving kickbacks, which was paid for primarily through the California workers’ compensation system.

Tantuwaya entered into contracts with Drobot and various companies he owned, depositing bribe checks into his bank accounts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Tantuwaya admitted in his plea agreement that he knew or deliberately was ignorant that the payments were being given to him in exchange for bringing his patient surgeries to Pacific Hospital,” prosecutors said in a news release.

He received approximately $3.3 million in illegal payments, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Tantuwaya has been in federal custody since May 2021 after he violated the terms of his pretrial release, prosecutors said.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 9 and faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

There have been 23 defendants convicted for participating in the kickback scheme.