PHOENIX (AP) — The former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System — which had management problems that drew national outrage — has pleaded guilty to making false financial disclosures to the federal government about yearly gifts, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Sharon Helman was accused of failing to list more than $50,000 in gifts she received from a lobbyist in 2012-14, according to authorities.
Although a conviction for making a false statement to a government agency carries a maximum prison term of five years, prosecutors said Helman entered into a plea agreement and is expected to get probation at her April 25 sentencing.
Helman, 45, oversaw the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix from February 2012 to December 2014.
She was fired after whistleblowers disclosed to Congress that veterans seeking appointments faced delays of up to a year and that some had died while on secret wait lists. Subsequent investigations found that the VA in Phoenix had manipulated wait-time data.
Helman denied that patient-scheduling data had been falsified.
She wasn't charged with unlawfully accepting the gifts, but failing to provide the VA with required information to evaluate a potential conflict of interest.
Federal law required Helman to file a yearly financial disclosure report and disclose any gifts received.
Helman reported no gifts during calendar year 2013. But prosecutors say she actually received gifts totaling more than $19,300 including an automobile, concert tickets and two round-trip airline tickets.
Helmam also acknowledged failing to report four gifts worth more than $2,000 in 2012 and six gifts valued at nearly $28,000 in 2014.
Prosecutors said all of the gifts were from a single source, a person identified in court as a former high-level VA employee who from 2005-2009 served as Helman's supervisor.
From 2012-14, that person was an executive consultant and later vice president of a consulting and lobbying firm that assisted companies in expanding their business with the VA, according to prosecutors.
"While this is an important step forward in holding Sharon Helman accountable for her corrupt activities while serving as head of the Phoenix VA, the department's inability to convict Helman for her most serious crimes of wait-time manipulation and whistleblower retaliation has denied the veterans who died waiting for care on her watch the justice they deserve," U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in a statement Tuesday night.