Sentencing delayed in case of office manager for Tallahassee doctor facing fraud charges
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - New details emerged Thursday in the case of a Tallahassee doctor charged with tens of millions of dollars in healthcare fraud.
Her sentencing was set for Thursday morning, but the decision ultimately was delayed.
The judge emphasized in court Thursday that he does not want to rush this decision with questions about how to calculate the loss of money. The attorneys are not disagreeing on the facts, but rather legal issues.
The hearing lasted almost two hours with Austin herself on the stand for a while.
She spoke about her work history leading up to working for deGraft-Johnson and her current situation.
Austin testified that she would check patients in and out using an online system. She alleged that Degraft-Johnson would then go into the system and change a regular office visit to a surgery.
She said she knew something was wrong, noticing deGraft-Johnson was copying and pasting the same surgery notes into the system repeatedly.
During her testimony, Austin said that she did not lie to two office staff because neither came to her with concerns. Her attorney noted that she had also passed a polygraph on that issue.
She did testify that she lied to her daughter who worked there for a time because she did not want her caught up in it.
“I told her, ‘you don’t understand billing,’” said Austin.
Austin’s lawyer also brought up the issue of surgery packets; some had dates whited out, or left blank entirely.
Austin also said that when the doctor told her to leave dates off of consent forms, and then use them multiple times, he said, “It’s all legal. Do it.” She said she knew he was billing for phantom surgeries.
During cross-examination, attorneys for the Government asked her specifically about phantom surgeries on Thursdays.
deGraft-Johnson worked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and until noon on Thursday. Austin testified that there were sometimes more than 10 surgeries logged in the system on Thursdays, despite the fact that he had left after working a half day.
Attorneys for the Government brought up the existence of an Excel spreadsheet, composed with patients’ names, dates of birth, and the surgeries performed from a CD recorded in the operating room. Austin testified that an XRay technician had started the spreadsheet, and deGraft-Johnson instructed her to keep it going.
The Government’s attorney asked her whether she was keeping in essence an accurate record through the spreadsheet, since everything online in the clinical system was incorrect. Austin said yes.
At the time of the indictment, Austin’s salary was about $100,000. She said deGraft-Johnson was overly generous with many employees; she testified that when she tried to take a day off of work to purchase a plot of land next to her home, he handed her a $10,000 check.
When the transaction didn’t work out, Austin said she tried to return the money, but deGraft-Johnson wouldn’t take it back.
“It’s now in the bank,” she said. “Now, it’s going to be used to bury me. I have no insurance. I can’t get a decent job. Now if I die, my family can use it to bury me.”
The judge asked Austin why she didn’t quit if she knew something was wrong.
“I had to have a job,” she said. “I have bills to pay like everyone else.”
After almost two hours, the judge decided not to make a decision on Thursday.
He explained that the ruling on the amount of loss could affect the sentencing amount, ranging from six months to 120 months.
He gave the defense and the Government until March 26th to file new documents with examples of similar cases they’d like him to look at.
He set Austin’s new sentencing date for April 5. Degraft-Johnson is to be sentenced on June 9.
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