SUMMIT — A cancer doctor stood shackled before a federal judge yesterday and pleaded not guilty to charges of stealing millions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare by diluting chemotherapy drugs and reusing old needles on multiple patients.
Dr. Meera Sachdeva, the 50-year-old founder of Rose Cancer Center in Summit, said little other than to answer the judge’s questions during the brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Jackson.
The short, portly doctor with long black hair wore an orange jumpsuit and black-framed glasses. She had to stand on her toes at one point to reach a podium while signing court documents.
Sachdeva’s attorney, Robert McDuff, had no comment after the hearing.
Prosecutors say Sachdeva gave patients less chemotherapy or cheaper drugs than they were told, while billing Medicaid and Medicare for more. Prosecutors also say the clinic billed for new syringes for each patient even though it reused some on multiple people.
The clinic was established in South Mississippi in 2005 and billed Medicaid and Medicare for about $15.1 million during the alleged scheme.
The Mississippi Health Department closed the clinic in July due to “unsafe infection control practices” after 11 patients went to hospitals with the same bacterial infection. Officials are in the process of testing hundreds of patients for HIV and other diseases because of concerns of contamination from dirty needles.
“As of yet, and we’re still early in the process, we have not identified any cases of hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV that we believe are connected to the Rose Cancer Center,” Liz Sharlot, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Health, said yesterday.
Sharlot said the Health Department plans to test about 400 patients, and is about half way there now.
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 clinic billed for 142,200 milligrams, even though it only had only purchased 45,100 milligrams, court records said.
Sachdeva has been held without bond since her arrest in August because she’s considered a flight risk, though court documents indicate she will ask a federal appeals court to let her out of prison pending trial.
Prosecutors say Sachdeva, who is a naturalized citizen from India, often traveled overseas and has considerable assets, including bank accounts in her native country, despite the seizure of about $6 million. The government says that makes her a flight risk even though she and a 14-year-old son surrendered their passports. Her other two children are in college and her husband has passed away.
The clinic’s former office manager, 24-year-old Brittany McCoskey of Monticello, and a former billing agent, 43-year-old Monica Weeks of Madison, have pleaded not guilty. They are both free on bond.