Article Commenting/FEDERAL COURTS
Theft of patients’ records nets the max in prison
A federal judge imposed a stiff sentence on a Miami-Dade man who schemed to steal patient records.
BY JAY WEAVER
If Ruben E. Rodriguez — sitting in a wheelchair — was looking for sympathy at his sentencing Monday for pilfering more than 3,000 Jackson Memorial Hospital patient records, he came to the wrong place.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard sentenced Rodriguez to 11 years in prison for a scam that involved selling stolen patient records to lawyers for injury claims and generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks for himself.
Lenard’s sentence was more than double the guidelines in a probation office’s report. Lenard said Rodriguez was driven by ”greed.” ”It was so he could obtain money through the misery of vulnerable victims,” said Lenard, who also imposed a $100,000 fine. This sentence says to the defendant and to the Miami community that this conduct will not be tolerated,” she added. It’s not acceptable. It’s not OK.”
Rodriguez’s lawyer, Philip Horowitz, argued for a sentence of about six years. Federal prosecutor Ben Curtis pushed for 12 years.
In the end, the sheer number of patient records stolen by a Jackson employee paid off by Rodriguez required Lenard to impose the higher sentence, she said.
Rodriguez, who suffers from diabetes, heart disease and other ailments, is ”a 62-year-old man with an 82-year-old man’s body,” Horowitz said. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges and aggravated identity theft in July. According to the probation office report, Rodriguez stole 3,360 patients’ names, addresses, telephone numbers and medical diagnoses between 2008 and 2009. Jackson didn’t have the numbers for 2007.
In related charges, he stole thousands of additional patient records from a national ambulance company dating back to 1995, Curtis said.
In addition, his bond was revoked last year after he was caught obstructing justice by tampering with a grand jury witness. For his part, Rodriguez apologized to the judge, the government and others, saying he was ”ashamed” and ”remorseful.” He said he didn’t know his actions were illegal. Curtis said Rodriguez’s statement was ”absolutely ridiculous.” ”It’s disturbing not only to the legal profession and the medical community, but also to the entire South Florida community,” he said. ”It’s a tremendous black eye.”
The prosecutor said the investigation will continue, suggesting that the FBI will be focusing on Miami-Dade lawyers who paid Rodriguez hundreds of thousands of dollars after settling injury claims on patients’ behalf.
Rodriguez’ wife, Maria Victoria Suarez, 52, allegedly helped him in the scheme and was prepared to plead guilty in May. But the judge refused her planned plea to a conspiracy charge, which carries up to five years, saying the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Suarez will now face trial.
Rodriguez paid hospital employee Rebecca Garcia, to steal Jackson patient records for the private information. He met her through his wife, a cosmetologist who did vascular treatments for Garcia. Rodriguez paid Garcia $1,000 a month for the records of patients treated for slip-and-fall accidents, car-crash injuries, gunshot wounds and stabbings.
The payments, totaling $27,000, were made from December 2006 to February 2009, according to court records.
In turn, he called the patients to screen them for referrals to lawyers. Garcia, who was fired from Jackson last year, is serving a 10-month prison sentence.
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