Plea change hearing set in cancer fraud case

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A change of plea hearing has been scheduled for a second nurse charged with withholding information about a crime at a shuttered cancer clinic involved in a multimillion-dollar fraud.

A filing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Jackson says Brittany Davis Powell is scheduled to plead guilty Oct. 21. Another nurse, Courtney Michelle Young, had previously been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday to plead guilty.

Both women worked at the Rose Cancer Center in Summit before it was shut down and its owner, Dr. Meera Sachdeva, sentenced to federal prison for 20 years.

Powell and Young were charged with misprision of a felony on Aug. 22. Prosecutors say they failed to report that Sachdeva ordered nurses to make retroactive entries in patients’ files.

Powell’s attorneys did not immediately respond to messages Thursday.

Young’s lawyer, Thomas Fortner, said the nurses are charged with failing to report a crime related to patient files, not the more serious allegations faced by the clinic, like reusing syringes on multiple patients. Young did not receive extra pay for not reporting the changes in patient files, Fortner said.

In sentencing Sachdeva in December, U.S District Judge Daniel Jordan said the “most horrifying” evidence was that unqualified technicians performed bone marrow biopsies. He also said syringes were re-used and multiple patients’ chemotherapy drugs were drawn from the same bag.

Prosecutors had initially charged that the clinic watered down chemotherapy drugs. At sentencing, however, federal prosecutor Scott Gilbert said medical technology was not advanced enough to determine how much chemotherapy drugs the each individual patient had received, so the government couldn’t prove that drugs were diluted.

Authorities say the clinic billed Medicaid and Medicare for about $15.1 million during the scheme. In addition to her prison sentence, Sachdeva was ordered to repay nearly $8.2 million after pleading guilty to health care fraud and making false statements.

The Mississippi State Department of Health closed the clinic in July 2012 because of “unsafe infection control practices” after 11 patients were hospitalized with the same bacterial infection.

Besides Sachdeva, two others have already been convicted and sentenced in the case.

The office manager, Brittany McCoskey, was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to help pay $55,069 in restitution for making false statements.

Monica Weeks of Madison, who handled the clinic’s billing from her Ridgeland firm, Medical Billing Group, was sentenced to three months’ house arrest and ordered to help pay $19,550 in restitution.


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