The Medial Board of California has settled its case against a San Luis Obispo psychiatrist charged with engaging in exploitative relationships with his patients.
Dr. Erol Giray - who's practiced psychiatry in San Luis Obispo since the early 1990s - faced five charges of dishonest and corrupt behavior and negligence, and one charge of "inadequate record keeping."
As part of his plea bargain, Giray admitted that there was a "factual basis" for the record-keeping charge and agreed to the punishment set down by the board: Two 15-day-long suspensions of his medical license and a 10-year-long probation.
Giray will also have to take classes in medical record-keeping, ethics, and a minimum three-day-long class on professional boundaries. He must have his practice monitored by another physician for 10 years, and pay about $13,000 in fines.
Lastly, without admitting he did anything wrong, he must pay $129,000 in restitution for the $419,000 in "gifts" the medical board says he took from his patients.
Isa Rodriguez, the deputy attorney general who prosecuted Giray, was unable to answer questions about the settlement.
Giray's Los Angeles-based lawyer, Peter Osinoff said the case was not about quality of care, but about the financial gifts and confusing "boundary issues."
Unlike a case where a doctor has performed physical harm, he said, allegations of ethical violations require a defense of a doctor's character.
"We needed to show the board that Dr. Giray was the type of person with excellent character that I know him to be," Osinoff said.
As for the boundary issues that Osinoff described as confusing for Giray: "Of course he understands them now."
One of Giray's patients, who spoke to New Times on the condition of anonymity, said the punishment "seemed fairly light." Like Osinoff, Jamie (not the patient's real name) thought that Giray would change, if only because he'll be supervised.
"Some people change because they have integrity; some people change because they're being held accountable. He doesn't have integrity," Jamie said.
Giray, who didn't return calls for this story and is out of town until October, graduated from the University of Rochester School Of Medicine in 1981. He moved with his wife and two children to the Central Coast in the early 1990s and purchased a 2,700-square-foot home in what his wife would later describe in divorce proceedings as an "exclusive neighborhood" in Arroyo Grande.
Medical board investigators say that in 1997, one of Giray's patients built a $72,420 addition to the home, but when questioned years later, Giray could not provide records of the patient's treatment and the patient couldn't prove that the doctor had ever paid for any work.
The medical board's investigation went on to detail many other instances of what it described as "corrupt" behavior. For instance, investigators say Giray pressured his patients to make his mortgage payments and give him "gifts." Giray allegedly told one patient that he'd give the patient free services for life if the patient paid off the doctor's $400,000 mortgage.
Patients told investigators that they were torn between feelings of trust and fear. "It's like going to a priest. You trust him," one patient told New Times.
Conflicted or not, some gave Giray what he asked for. One patient bought him a car and a computer; another gave a $390,000 "gift," which Giray allegedly used to pay off his home mortgage.
According to his lawyer, Osinoff, Giray plans on continuing to live and practice in the San Luis Obispo area.
Staff Writer Abraham Hyatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How the medical board investigates
Like at the local police department, there's a lot of work that happens between a complaint against a doctor and the filing of formal charges.
Candis Cohen, spokesperson for the Medical Board of California, describes it as a "very formalized." "Every bit of due process that's affordable, we give. It's a very analytical process," she said.
First, the board receives a complaint about a doctor, sometimes anonymously, sometimes from a hospital official, and sometimes from government group.
The first stop for the complaint is the Central Complaint Unit. There, medical consultants and analysts determine the validity, and severity of the complaint. Most complaints, Cohen said, don't make it past this point.
But if it looks like there's a violation, the case is sent to an investigator - who's also a sworn peace officer - and they interview patients and witnesses and gather information. If there's proof the doctor is guilty of a minor violation, the board may issue an administrative citation and fine at this point. Investigators can close the case and refer it to local law enforcement.
Other cases move on to the next step: the attorney general's office and a deputy attorney general who specializes in medical law. "If they believe the evidence is strong enough, they'll file [charges] on behalf of the medical board," Cohen said.
After that comes an administrative hearing, which, like a case in a courthouse, is presided over by a judge. But many cases don't get there. At a pre-hearing, the board and the deputy attorney general will often accept a plea bargain from the doctor.
Which is what happened in Dr. Erol Giray's case. Because of the agreements in that settlement, neither the deputy attorney general, Isa Rodriguez, or Giray's lawyer, Peter Osinoff, will comment on details surrounding the plea bargain.