A former Las Vegas man who volunteered for years at University Medical Center was sentenced Wednesday to 33 months in prison for conspiring to disclose the personal health information of trauma patients.
"Justice will not be done, even with a 33-month sentence," said U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson, who also imposed a $5,000 fine.
Richard Charette, 55, pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy.
Charette admitted paying $9,200 to the manager of the UMC trauma resuscitation department, identified in court as Daniel Petcavage, for at least 55 "face sheets" containing confidential information about trauma patients, then using the information to solicit patients for chiropractors and personal injury lawyers.
During a sentencing hearing that lasted more than two hours, defense attorney Benjamin Durham argued that Charette should receive the same penalty that Petcavage received: probation. The attorney said Petcavage, whose criminal case is sealed, violated the trust of his co-workers.
"He was the leak in this case," Durham said.
In a brief statement to the judge, Charette described himself as a good candidate for probation.
"I'm truly sorry for what I've done. It went too far. I'm just really sorry," Charette said. "I don't feel I should go to jail."
But Dawson chose a longer prison term for Charette than even prosecutors had requested. Prosecutors had asked for a 30-month term.
"The line is clearly drawn, and it is illegal to be an ambulance chaser or to employ someone else to do that for you," the judge said.
Dawson ruled that Charette, a former UMC volunteer who managed Accident Trial Lawyers, played a leadership role in the scheme. The judge also said Charette had failed to take full responsibility for his crime.
Charette waited until prosecutors had nearly completed their trial preparation before agreeing to plead guilty.
In addition, FBI Special Agent James Rogers testified that Charette called attorney Andrew Taylor, owner of Accident Trial Lawyers, soon after his arrest, thereby scuttling further investigation into the law practice.
Dawson also found that Charette tried to obstruct justice during a telephone conversation with Petcavage, who was cooperating with the FBI. During the recorded conversation, Charette told Petcavage not to talk about money.
"You never sold nothin'. Ya know what I'm sayin'?" Charette said, according to a transcript of the conversation. Later in the call, Charette told Petcavage, "You're the only one that could ever, uh, hurt yourself, so don't say nothin'. Just remember no money was ever switched hands -- ever."
Kathleen Silver, UMC's chief executive officer, testified that the data leak cost the hospital at least $120,000.
Silver said UMC notified about 5,500 people that their personal information, including Social Security numbers, might have been illegally disclosed. She said the hospital spent about $106,000 to offer them one year's worth of free credit reporting.
"We really didn't know what the intent of this breach was," Silver said.
She said the leak, which violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also harmed the hospital's reputation and diminished staff morale.
Dawson said he considered Silver's estimate of UMC's financial loss to be "very, very conservative."
Charette, who now lives in Florida, has until Aug. 5 to surrender to prison.
After the hearing, Silver said she was "delighted" with the outcome.
"We think that this should send a clear message to anyone who might be considering any involvement in a crime such as this," she said.
Silver said both defendants received fair sentences. She called Charette the "mastermind" and Petcavage "the tool."
As for Petcavage, she said: "He did lose his job. He also had problems with the Board of Nursing with his license, so I don't think it's a rosy picture for our former employee."
Debra Scott, a spokeswoman for the Nevada State Board of Nursing, said Petcavage is on probation with the board. He is a registered nurse.
Records show that Petcavage faxed patient records from his UMC office to Charette's home in 2009.
Authorities said Charette hired three people to solicit trauma patients. He gave the workers prepaid phones and a script to follow when calling the patients. He also instructed the workers to use fake names.
Rogers, the case agent, said one accident victim reported that she had been contacted by someone who claimed to be calling on behalf of the fire department. She was given the phone number of Accident Trial Lawyers but was told she had to visit a chiropractic clinic before receiving legal assistance, the agent said.
Assistant Bar Counsel Phil Pattee said the State Bar of Nevada's parallel investigation, which is confidential, "remains ongoing."
"At this time we are investigating only one lawyer," he said.
Taylor declined to say whether the Bar is investigating him. He also said he never knowingly receiving confidential patient information from Charette.
"It actually came as a surprise to me when he was indicted and arrested," the lawyer said.
He said he picked Charette up at the North Las Vegas jail after his arrest.
"He called me because I'm an attorney," Taylor said. "That's what my impression was."
Taylor said he now practices law as a sole practitioner.
"I closed the firm because of the affiliation with Mr. Charette," he said.
He said Charette had separate, locked offices with separate entrances when he managed the firm.
"He never approached me, never offered to sell me information," Taylor said.
Contact Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.