Federal investigators have fast-tracked a criminal case against former VA nurse in Massachusetts. Mere weeks after her arrest, a grand jury has issued an indictment of her on two controlled substance charges.
The indictment charges that she diverted pain medication from suffering VA patients in her hospice unit over a three-day period. She now faces separate federal charges for tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by way of fraud.
Feds Find It’s Not This Nurse’s First Time Siphoning Meds
Investigators uncovered evidence that the nurse routinely diluted doses of morphine allocated to VA patients during the two-month period prior to her arrest. This is not a situation where “allegedly” is important because the nurse has admitted to these act, claiming to have substance abuse issues. At least one patient is thought to have suffered directly in his last days from her scheme.
Authorities point to employee reports concerning the former nurse’s medication card and evidence of tampering with medication substances to bolster their case. They also say she falsified records to hide the scheme as well.
Additionally, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health records shows that she failed to follow proper procedures and “wasted” narcotics on 60 previous occasions.
With federal prosecutors involved this time, the nurse is looking at a serious drug crime sentence. Let’s take a closer look at the federal charges she currently faces.
Tampering with a Consumer Product: A Case of Reckless Disregard
The federal statute defines tampering with a consumer product in a number of ways. Specific to this case, it defines an offender as someone who places another person in danger of death or bodily injury with reckless disregard.
If someone “manifests extreme indifference to such risk” when tampering with a consumer product they have also committed a crime.
Federal Penalties for Tampering with a Consumer Product
This general charge of tampering with a consumer product with reckless disregard or extreme indifference could expose nurse a prison sentence of more than a decade. A conviction could also carry a fine determined by the courts.
Tampering Offenses Not Named in Nurse’s Federal Charges
Although the nurse’s specific tampering charge does not address employee’s reports of falsifying records, the statute does describe the unlawful act of tampering with a consumer product as someone who “knowingly communicates false information that a consumer product has been tainted.”
Relevant Conduct Strategy May Be in Play
A conviction on falsifying records typically carries a five-year jail sentence. Perhaps prosecutors are earmarking the additional definition as part of a strategy known as “relevant conduct.”
This occurs when prosecutors wait until sentencing to present additional offenses in order to sway the judge to maximize penalties. The practice is hotly debated and considered by many to be unconstitutional.
In the meantime, there is still the very real charge of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud to contend with.
Obtaining a Controlled Substance by Fraud
Under federal drug laws, it is unlawful for any person to intentionally obtain “a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge (deceit).”
It is also illegal for anyone “to furnish false or fraudulent material” or even “omit any material information” from reports and records that are required by law to be maintained.
The nurse’s actions of falsifying reports, omitting the dilution of the morphine doses, and submitting the essentially falsified records as correct are all acts of fraud under this law.
A conviction on this federal charge could add another four years to her prison term, and that could double to eight if prosecutors secure a conviction on the previous count as well.
In addition to these penalties, the Attorney General is actually authorized to initiate civil action relating to her violations.
All in all, it seems this nurse’s personal issues have gotten in the way of her altruistic efforts as a staff member for the VA. One thing certain, this former VA nurse is going to need an experienced drug crimes attorney to wade through this federal case.