Doc, 2 others charged in Miss chemotherapy fraud

AP News
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Posted: Sep 09, 2011 7:46 PM
Doc, 2 others charged in Miss chemotherapy fraud

A shuttered clinic in south Mississippi gave cancer patients less chemotherapy or cheaper drugs than they were led to believe and reused the same needles on multiple people as part of a multimillion-dollar Medicare and Medicaid fraud, a 15-count indictment says.

Three women, including Dr. Meera Sachdeva, the 50-year-old founder of Rose Cancer Center in Summit, were charged Thursday. The clinic had already been shut down by the state Health Department for "unsafe infection control practices."

Sachdeva has been ordered held without bond. Her attorney Rob McDuff, said she will plead not guilty "and we'll go from there."

The defendants "knew that the liquid solutions that were infused into the patients treated at Rose Cancer Center contained a smaller amount of the chemotherapy drugs than the defendants had billed to various health care benefit programs, or contained different, less expensive drugs," the indictment says.

The clinic also billed the agencies for new syringes for each patient, even though it reused some on multiple people, authorities said.

Prosecutors say Medicaid and Medicare paid the clinic $15.1 million during that time. Authorities have seized $6 million.

The others charged are employees, 24-year-old Brittany McCoskey of Monticello and 43-year-old Monica Weeks of Madison.

When contacted Friday, McCoskey said she did not know about the indictment and wanted to read it before commenting. It wasn't clear if Weeks had an attorney. A phone call to a listing for Weeks was not immediately returned.

McCoskey was a receptionist and later the office manager. Weeks submitted claims to Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies.

McCoskey and Weeks are both charged with 11 counts and, if convicted, face 125 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines.

Prosecutor Scott Gilbert said Sachdeva was arrested in August and ordered held without bond. She appealed that ruling, but it was upheld Friday by a different judge.

Prosecutors argued that Sachdeva should remain in jail until trial because she's a naturalized U.S. citizen from India, routinely travels to her native country and is a flight risk.

"Moreover, the defendant has substantial financial resources available to her, in spite of the seizure of almost $6,000,000 by the government," court records said.

Rose Cancer Center came under scrutiny earlier this year when 11 patients went to hospitals with bacterial infections, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.

Liz Sharlot, a Health Department spokeswoman, said Friday that the clinic was closed July 20. The Health Department advised patients to get screened for Hepatitis B and C and HIV, though officials have not found anyone who got a viral infection as a direct result of treatment.

Sharlot said 150 to 200 patients have been screened and the department will conduct additional testing.

Federal authorities began investigating the clinic after getting some information from a confidential informant.

Sachdeva faces up to 165 years in prison and more than $3.2 million in fines if convicted.

"The patients in the case are truly as much as victims as the government," U.S. Attorney John Dowdy told The Associated Press on Friday.