Cancer doctor petitions court for release from jail

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Published: September 20,2011

Tags: Cancer, cancer clinics, clinics, courts, doctors, health, healthcare, physicians

SUMMIT — A Mississippi cancer doctor wants a federal appeals court to let her out of jail as she awaits trial on charges that her clinic diluted chemotherapy drugs and used old needles as part of a multi-million-dollar Medicaid and Medicare fraud scheme.

Dr. Meera Sachdeva, the 50-year-old owner of Rose Cancer Clinic in Summit, has been jailed in the case since Aug. 11. Two judges have deemed her a flight risk and ordered her held without bond.

Sachdeva’s attorney, Robert McDuff, filed a notice last Friday indicating that he’ll ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to overturn the decisions to hold Sachdeva without bond.

Prosecutors say Sachdeva often travels overseas and has considerable assets, despite the seizure of about $6 million, including bank accounts in her native India. The government says that makes her a flight risk even though she and a 14-year-old son have surrendered their passports. Her other two children are in college and her husband has passed away.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson ordered Sachdeva to remain behind bars with no bond after a hearing Aug. 12. That decision was upheld by U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan Sept. 9.

“The charges regarding the treatment of her patients — which at this stage appear to be based on credible evidence — demonstrate a disturbing disregard for the law, morals, and even human life,” Jordan wrote. “Moreover, there is credible evidence that Defendant laundered money and that she shredded documents in an effort to thwart the investigation. This alleged disrespect for criminal proceedings adds weight to the risk for flight.”

Prosecutors say the clinic gave patients less chemotherapy or cheaper drugs than the patients were told, while billing Medicaid and Medicare for more.

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.

The clinic also billed for new syringes for each patient, even though it allegedly reused some on multiple people. Prosecutors also say Sachdeva left the country at times and let unqualified employees give chemotherapy treatments unsupervised by a doctor.

The Mississippi Health Department closed the clinic in July over “unsafe infection control practices” after 11 patients went to a hospital for bacterial infections. Former patients are now being tested for HIV and other diseases because of concerns of contamination from dirty needles.

Sachdeva is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday in Jackson for an arraignment. McDuff has said she will plead not guilty.

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.

Weeks, described by prosecutors as the clinic’s billing agent, was released on a property bond on her home, which was valued at $450,000, though she still owes about $293,000.

McCoskey told the judge she owns no property and couldn’t afford an attorney. She was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond, meaning she doesn’t have to put up any money. She was placed on home confinement with electronic monitoring.

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