Prescott doctor abruptly closes practice, charged in federal prostitution case
PRESCOTT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Lori Owens was only able to cobble together a small stack of records to document years of medical care. “I’ve tried every avenue I can try to recover my medical records.” she said, holding back tears.
A few months ago, Owens was surprised to learn her doctor’s office, Thumb Butte Medical Center, had abruptly closed. “The doors were locked with a sign on it that said Dr. [Hojat] Askari had sold the business, and that was it. You couldn’t call. You couldn’t get through.” Now, a new practice greets old patients in the same location. Owens says there was no warning and is facing a race against time for her records. “They need them to decide my Social Security case, she said. “I desperately need those records in order for my case to go forward. I need the evidence. I need the treatments. I need who I’ve been to see. I need my medications.”
Marty English went to the same practice. The grandmother, who moved to Prescott to be closer to family, can’t locate her medical records either, and fears necessary medical care may fall through the cracks. “Everything just disappeared. Nobody knew anything about my records,” she said. “I’ll have to start all over.”
By law, patients are entitled to their own medical records. In Arizona, providers must keep adult patients’ records for at least six years after the last health care service. The law also requires “when a health care provider retires or sells the provider’s practice the provider shall take reasonable measures to ensure that the provider’s records are retained.” Patients who are unable to access their records can file a complaint with the Arizona Medical Board.
A spokesperson for the Arizona Medical Board said due to confidentiality, the board cannot disclose the existence of any investigations or complaints into Dr. Askari, but said in general, “the board may take action against the physician’s license for failing to release and/or retain the records according to law.” The board’s records show Dr. Hojat Askari’s license remains active.
After On Your Side began asking questions, Owens received an email with a release form for her to complete. A couple weeks later, she was able to pick up a CD with her records on it but says her new doctor’s office is not able to open the files.
Doctor faces federal criminal charges
While On Your Side was searching for medical records, Askari’s name appeared in a federal court case. We learned he is one of two defendants charged in a criminal prostitution case. According to court documents, Askari and a second defendant, Iman Bambooyan, encouraged women to travel across state lines “for the purpose of engaging in sex acts in exchange for money.” The indictment alleges Askari wrote checks for thousands of dollars from personal and business accounts. He is also accused of lying to FBI and IRS investigators. A second grand jury investigation is referenced in the indictment.
Askari turned himself in, and he was arraigned in a federal courtroom in Illinois, where he denied the claims. Askari’s attorney on record, Meghan Blanco, has not responded to On Your Side’s questions. Physicians who are charged with a felony or misdemeanor involving ‘moral turpitude’ are required to notify the Arizona Medical Board within 10 days of being charged. It’s unclear if Askari has notified the board of the charges he is facing.
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