There is a popular misconception that white collar crimes are treated less harshly by the criminal justice system in Texas than violent felonies. The reality is that prosecutors–and judges–are often more keen to “throw the book” at white collar defendants because fraudulent acts can harm hundreds or thousands of people. White collar crimes also tend to enrich the defendant personally, which can lead judges to show little or no mercy at sentencing.
Judge Insists She’s Not “Heartless” After Doubling Recommended Sentence for Terminally Ill Woman
For example, a Houston woman was recently sentenced to 75 years in federal prison for taking part in a Medicare billing fraud scheme. According to the U.S. Department of Justice the defendant, who owned and managed a home health agency, colluded with others to submit “over $10 million in false and fraudulent claims” for services that were either medically unnecessary or never actually performed. Prosecutors said the defendant “falsified medical records to make it appear as though the Medicare beneficiaries qualified for and received home health services.” She also “paid illegal kickbacks” to individuals who “recruited” Medicare beneficiaries.
The defendant was tried in Houston federal court last year. A jury found the defendant guilty on a total of seven counts, including health care fraud and money laundering. The Justice Department said that four other defendants previously entered guilty pleas in connection with the same Medicare fraud scheme.
At a sentencing hearing held on August 11 of this year, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon surprised many observers when she more than doubled the prison sentence recommended by the Justice Department. Federal sentencing is subject to a set of guidelines, with various “enhancements” applied based on the nature of a defendant’s crimes. Here, the prosecution said the guidelines justified a 35-year prison term.
The defendant’s attorney, in contrast, argued for a more lenient sentence, primarily because his client is dying. Sadly, the defendant is undergoing treatment for stage 4 breast cancer, which is incurable. “If there is any Defendant that stands before the Court that deserves a below-guideline sentence,” the defense attorney pleaded in court, it was his client, who has had to undergo chemotherapy “while she’s shackled.”
But this plea apparently fell on deaf ears. While Judge Harmon explained, “I am not a heartless person,” she said “the way the law works” required her to issue a sentence of 900 months (75 years) in jail. The judge also ordered the defendant to repay the government over $13.2 million. The defendant plans to appeal her conviction and sentence to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to her attorney.
Are You Under Investigation for Fraud?
This case illustrates how deadly serious the government takes fraud. Obviously, most defendants are not facing trial while simultaneously undergoing treatment for a terminal illness. But a 75-year prison term is effectively a death sentence for anybody. That is why, if state or federal prosecutors suspect you are involved in any kind of fraud scheme, you need to speak with a qualified Houston white collar crimes defense lawyer right away. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 today if you need immediate legal assistance.