Inside Dr. Steven Mangar’s dimly lit office space in Salinas, a half dozen people sit in the waiting room on a recent afternoon, paging through magazines. His schedule is packed with back-to-back patients, as he is one of just 11 pain management specialists in Monterey County. But that could soon change.
On June 23, the state Attorney General’s Office will ask a Monterey County Superior Court judge, on behalf of the California Medical Board, to suspend Mangar’s medical license while his criminal case is underway.
Mangar was charged in May with 37 felonies that allege he was part of a $500,000 insurance fraud scheme. He is believed to have billed insurance companies for services patients never had, says Deputy District Attorney Amy Patterson. His office manager, Maria Aloha Eclavea, is also charged with 23 felonies on suspicion of committing fraud.
J.A. Hernandez, Eclavea’s attorney, says it wasn’t fraud, but perhaps “poor record-keeping.” Mangar’s attorneys, Susan Chapman and Frank Dice, declined to comment.
Mangar’s case stems from a two-year investigation by local, state and federal authorities. Beyond insurance fraud, Mangar is accused of overprescribing opiates to patients, leading to addiction and overdoses. There are at least 25 victims of overprescription identified in the criminal complaint.
“Patients would go to see him and would get worse,” Patterson says. “He would overprescribe narcotics without a medical evaluation.”
At least four patients died while in Mangar’s care, according to documents filed by the medical board.
In 2013, Mangar prescribed hydrocodone, sold under brand names like Vicodin, the most. He was responsible for 967 prescriptions or refills, making him the No. 2 prescriber of hydrocodone among California specialists, according to a database maintained by ProPublica.
Mangar continues practicing medicine, but prosecutors and the medical board say the severity of the accusations should put a stop to it, at least until proven not guilty.
He has denied all allegations against him, and at least one of his patients, Kerry Wright, stands by him, despite the criminal proceedings. She’s had numerous surgeries, including back and brain operations, and says she uses oxycodone to deal with chronic pain.
“I’ll have pain the rest of my life, but now I am happy, I function and I am not addicted,” Wright says. “He saved my life.” Without Mangar, Wright says she would have to travel to San Jose or San Francisco to see a specialist.
Editor's note: On Thursday, June 23, there was no decision made on whether Dr. Mangar's medical license should be suspended. An evidentiary hearing will be held on the matter will be held July 19.