SUMMIT — A clinic in South Mississippi gave cancer patients less chemotherapy or cheaper drugs than they were told and reused the same needles on multiple people as part of a multimillion-dollar Medicare and Medicaid fraud, a 15-count indictment alleges.
Three women, including Dr. Meera Sachdeva, the 50-year-old founder of Rose Cancer Center in Summit, were charged in the indictment last 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.
The others charged in the case are employees, 24-year-old Brittany McCoskey of Monticello and 43-year-old Monica Weeks of Madison.
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 healthcare benefit programs, or contained different, less expensive drugs,” the indictment says.
The clinic also allegedly billed the agencies for new syringes for each patient, even though it reused some syringes on multiple people.
Prosecutors say Medicaid and Medicare paid the clinic $15.1 million during the alleged scheme. Authorities have seized $6 million.
Sachdeva’s attorney, Rob McDuff, said “she’ll enter a plea of not guilty and we’ll go from there.”
When contacted last Friday, McCoskey said she did not know she was indicted and wanted to read the indictment before commenting.
It wasn’t clear if Weeks had an attorney. A phone call to a listing for Weeks was not immediately returned.
Prosecutor Scott Gilbert said Sachdeva was arrested in August and ordered held without bond. She appealed that ruling, but it was upheld last 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 last 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 at the cancer center.
Sharlot said 150 to 200 patients have been screened and the department will conduct additional testing.
Federal authorities began investigating the clinic after a confidential informant told them the suspects were “altering, forging and destroying patient records in anticipation of a Medicare audit,” court records said. Authorities said they found shredded documents when the clinic was raided the next day.
Sachdeva faces up to 165 years in prison and more than $3.2 million in fines if convicted.
McCoskey was a receptionist and later the office manager at Rose Cancer Center. Weeks submitted the claims for Rose Cancer Center 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.
“My office will remain vigilant as healthcare fraud investigations continue to ensure that patients receiving treatment are being provided the appropriate and adequate treatment,” U.S. Attorney John Dowdy told The Associated Press last Friday.
“The patients in the case are truly as much as victims as the government,” he said. “There was over $15 million in claims that she made through Medicaid and Medicare. It’s disturbing to see this kind of fraud continuing when the federal government is looking for ways to cut costs.”