Thursday, July 30, 1998

Hilo doctor draws
prison term for
false billing

A U.S. judge sentences
the physician to 12 months
and one day

By Linda Hosek


A doctor who pleaded guilty for billing the government for patients he didn't treat had hoped to serve a minimum term of 10 months in a Philadelphia halfway house and get weekend passes to visit his mother.

But U.S. District Judge Alan Kay yesterday sentenced Dr. Laurence T. McKinney to 12 months and a day in prison, saying he must be punished for what he did.

McKinney, 42, previously pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud in which he submitted more than 500 false claims and received about $25,000 from 1991 to 1995.

Kay cited the extent of McKinney's fraud, the blatant manner in which he manipulated insurance programs to his own benefit and his abuse of trust.

He also ordered McKinney to complete 300 hours of community service after his release and pay restitution, which includes about $19,490 to the state and $5,619 to Hawaii Medical Services Association.

Judge commends remorse

Kay, who rejected a government plea to sentence McKinney to a maximum of 16 months, did commend McKinney for showing remorse and rehabilitating himself.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Tong called the sentence "substantial for this crime" and said McKinney was one of about five doctors prosecuted for similar crimes since 1993.

"The percentage of doctors who cheat here is very small, but it makes it important to catch the ones who do," he said.

McKinney, who had an obstetrics and gynecology practice in Hilo, initially declined to make a statement before Kay sentenced him. But he spoke for several minutes after Kay suggested that McKinney had not fully acknowledged his criminal activities.

He said he had wanted to blame others for billing the government for patients he didn't treat, but admitted he was the one who initiated illegal billing. "It's my fault," he said, adding that he hoped someday to give back to the state and the people of Hilo.

In addition to billing for patients who missed appointments, he also billed for patients seen by his registered nurse.

Tong said McKinney's apology was in contrast to his behavior since his 1997 indictment: "In over four years, he never admitted any wrongdoing."

Doctor threatened suit

He added that McKinney once threatened to sue for $5,000, alleging that the government was investigating him for racial motives. McKinney is African American.

Tong gave an example of how McKinney ignored patient wishes to avoid a second surgery so he could bill twice.

He said McKinney refused to perform a Caesarean and tubal ligation at the same time because the government would pay for only one procedure.

Lori Faymonville, deputy federal public defender, had argued to send McKinney to a halfway house to enable him to keep seeing patients.

"He has come back from a very low point in his life and is now contributing," she said.

Tong said McKinney previously lost his medical license in part because he failed to repay his student loan and for a sexual assault on a patient.

Fraud hurts patients

He also said that $1 out of $10 in the medical industry goes to fraud and abuse. He said fraud hurts patients by creating false records, adding: "A patient has a right to have an accurate chart."

Kay granted a defense request to add one day to McKinney's 12-month term, making him eligible for "good time."

That action could knock off about 30 days of the time he serves.

Kay also allowed him to self-surrender Sept. 14.

McKinney was cited in a 1993 Federal Register as one of about 5,000 health-care professionals who defaulted on government loans. His debt was $31,868.

HMSA banned McKinney in 1995 from the state's QUEST program, which serves low-income residents.

He had said that Medicaid patients represented 85 percent of his case load.

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