Ex-cancer clinic officer manager pleads guilty to health care fraud — (Mississippi Business Journal)

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Mississippi Business Journal

HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press

Published: May 23,2012

SUMMIT — An ex-office manager has pleaded guilty in what prosecutors say was a multi-million-dollar health care fraud in which a cancer clinic gave patients diluted chemotherapy drugs and used old syringes on multiple people.

Dr. Meera Sachdeva, Brittany McCoskey and Monica Weeks were indicted last August on charges including conspiracy and witness tampering related to the activities of Rose Cancer Center in Summit.

Filings in U.S. District Court in Jackson show that McCoskey pleaded guilty last Thursday to one count of giving false statements related to health care matters. The charge is related to billings to Medicaid and Medicare that claim a physician was present during certain procedures.

Sachdeva established the clinic in south Mississippi in 2005. Authorities say workers watered down drugs and billed Medicaid, Medicare and insurance companies for more chemotherapy drugs than patients received. The clinic billed Medicaid and Medicare for about $15.1 million during the alleged scheme.

The Mississippi Health Department closed the clinic last year because of “unsafe infection control practices” after 11 patients were hospitalized with the same bacterial infection. The scare led officials to test nearly 300 cancer patients for infections such as HIV. The department has said none of the patients tested had blood-borne viral infections related to the clinic’s care.

However, a civil lawsuit claims at least one patient died about the time the clinic was shut down from HIV he contracted there.

McCoskey’s sentencing is set for Aug. 6. Her lawyer, George Lucas, had no comment on Tuesday.

The other defendants have pleaded not guilty and await trial.

Sachdeva has been held without bond since August because authorities consider her a flight risk. She is a naturalized U.S. citizen from India. Prosecutors said she often traveled overseas and has considerable assets, including bank accounts, in her native country, despite the seizure of about $6 million.

Weeks is free on bond. Prosecutors say she did billing for the clinic.

Their trial had been set for May 2, but was postponed. No new trial date has been entered in court records.

Original article no longer available

Ex-clinic worker pleads not guilty to chemo fraud

HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press

Thursday, September 15, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) ­ The former office manager of a south Mississippi cancer clinic pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that she was involved in a massive health care fraud that included using old needles and giving patients less chemotherapy or cheaper drugs than they were led to believe.Brittany McCoskey, 24, of Monticello, stood shackled before a federal judge in Jackson and pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, including conspiracy and fraud. Prosecutors say McCoskey and two other women were part of a multimillion dollar Medicaid and Medicare fraud at Rose Cancer Center in Summit.

The clinic allegedly gave patients less chemotherapy drugs than they were told, and billed Medicaid and Medicare for more. The clinic also billed the programs for new syringes for each patient, even though it reused some on multiple people, authorities said. Former patients are being tested for diseases like HIV.

A line of questioning Thursday from U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson underscored the differences between the women charged.

The clinic’s owner, Dr. Meera Sachdeva, is a naturalized citizen from India and prosecutors said her wealth and frequent overseas travel make her a flight risk, even after authorities seized about $6 million. She has or has had medical licenses in six states. She’s being held without bond. She’s a mother of two college students and a 14-year-old son, according to court documents filed by her lawyer. Her husband died in 2007.

Monica Weeks, 43, described by prosecutors as the clinic’s billing agent, was released Tuesday on a property bond on her Madison home, which was valued at $450,000, though she still owes about $293,000. Her children attend private school. Both she and her husband own businesses, according to testimony.

McCoskey told the judge she owns no property and couldn’t afford an attorney. Public defender George Lucas was appointed to represent her. She was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond, meaning she doesn’t have to put up any money. She was placed on home confinement with electronic monitoring.

McCoskey told the judge that she was treated for depression in late 2007 and early 2008 and is on medication for it. She said she didn’t finish high school, but earned a GED. The Mississippi Board of Pharmacy has records of a pharmacy technician listed under McCoskey’s maiden name, though the license expired in 2009, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Court records say McCoskey started working for the Rose Cancer Center in Summit as a receptionist and later became office manager.

Weeks did the billing through a company called the Medical Billing Group, which has a Jackson address. Messages left at the business have not been returned. Weeks also worked with a company called Newborn Associates, an affiliation of doctors who treat babies in Mississippi. The phone number listed on Newborn Associates’ website rings to the Medical Billing Group.

Rose Cancer Center came under scrutiny earlier this year after 11 patients went to a hospital with the same bacterial infection. An alert doctor contacted the Mississippi Health Department, which closed the clinic on July 20 because of “unsafe infection control practices.”

Between 150 and 200 former patients have been tested for HIV and hepatitis since the clinic was shut down in July, and testing continues. Mississippi Health Department officials say none of the patients tested so far have been infected with HIV or Hepatitis B or C.

Some of the counts in the indictment allege that the care caused serious bodily harm. Authorities have not claimed that patients died from the care they received, but state and federal authorities continue to investigate.

Court records include a chart that lists the amounts of drugs the clinic allegedly purchased from pharmaceutical companies and compares those to the quantities that were billed to Medicaid and Medicare. The widest discrepancy is for the drug Erbitux. The court documents said the clinic purchased 45,100 milligrams, but billed for 42,200 milligrams.

Medical records indicate Sachdeva graduated from Calcutta National Medical College, University of Calcutta, in the 1980s. Some records said 1986; others said 1988. She has or has had medical licenses in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Ohio. Her Mississippi medical license has expired.

In November 2006, Sachdeva made Weeks the contact for Medicaid and Medicare billing for the clinic, court records said.

In 2009, Sachdeva founded a nonprofit group called Mississippi Helping Hands Foundation Inc., according to business records. It’s not clear how active the organization had been, but its stated goal was: “To provide medical care, including prescription drugs to cancer patients who are financially unable to pay for such care.”

Sachdeva is charged with 15 counts. If convicted on all counts, she faces up to 165 years in prison and more than $3.25 million in fines, though maximum sentences are rare in such cases.

McCoskey and Weeks are each charged with 11 counts of the indictment. If convicted, they face up to 125 years in prison and up to $2.25 million in fines.

Associated Press researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.