Detra Wiley Pate, owner and CEO of Southern Respiratory LLC, of Thomson, was sentenced to serve more than 10 years in federal prison today. There is no parole in the federal system, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
According to the sentence, Pate must submit herself for imprisonment by Sep. 2. In addition, she must pay $950,000 in restitution within 30 days of sentencing. If she has not by then, the judge ordered her to pay restitution in prison. Pate has 14 days to appeal her sentence. She must serve three years of supervised release after completion of her sentence.
On Dec. 11, 2018, following a four-day trial, a jury returned guilty verdicts against Pate for one count of Conspiracy to Commit Health Care Fraud, 21 counts of Health Care Fraud, and eight counts of Aggravated Identity Theft.
Tuesday, in federal court in Augusta, the Thomson business owner was sentenced by U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randall Hall to 121 months in federal prison for multiple counts of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and aggravated identity theft, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, in a press release following the sentencing.
“Detra Wiley Pate had every opportunity to operate a successful, legitimate business serving the needs of the elderly and vulnerable in her community,” said U.S. Attorney Christine, in a statement following the sentencing. “Instead, she got greedy and charged Medicare for expensive equipment patients neither needed nor received, using prescriptions doctors had not written. As an ironic result, she’ll grow old in prison while reflecting on her fraud.”
The statement further says that according to the information presented in court documents and testimony, from 2014-2016 Pate submitted thousands of false claims, fabricated patient files, and falsified prescriptions from doctors for items such as heavy-duty wheelchairs while providing much cheaper standard wheelchairs to patients – and pocketing the substantial difference in cost. Pate used the money she stole from Medicare through this fraud to pay for such things as jewelry, including a 1.5 carat diamond and a Rolex watch.
“Fraud schemes such as these divert taxpayer funds from vital federal healthcare programs to fraudsters – such as Detra Wiley Pate – who seek personal gain,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Our agents, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will continue to clamp down on such scams.”
The case was investigated by the FBI and by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patricia Rhodes and Thomas Clarkson led the prosecution for the United States with assistance from Litigation Technologist Dean Athanasopoulos.
Federal agents raided Southern Respiratory's former office and its storage warehouse at 310 West Hill Street January 26, 2017. Boxes of materials and computers were seen being removed by agents and placed into a van parked in front of the business.
Pate was indicted by a federal grand jury on 54 counts connected to this case in March 2017. She was released on a $75,000 bond.
Prior to sentencing, the defense filed 77 letters of support for Pate, some of which were submitted from individuals in the Thomson-area healthcare community.
In the prosecution’s, pre-sentencing filings at the end of last week, Christine was critical of those letters and wrote “with respect to the letters of support, some of these letters underscore how little Pate acknowledges the seriousness of her actions,” and “numerous letters filed by Pate repeat a common theme that, paradoxically, somehow she is the victim in this case. Several letters described how Pate has already ‘endured enough’ and ‘been punished’.”
During the sentencing, around a half a dozen people, including family members, testified on Pate’s character. They spoke on her repairing wheelchairs on her knees despite back problems. They spoke about her care giving for sick and disabled family members. They also spoke of her giving in a financial capacity.
Throughout the testimony, Rhodes brought up Pate’s actions as a counter to the testimony of her character.
“Do you think that someone who steals $9,500 has good character,” she said of one person giving testimonial.
Judge Hall said that he believed each person that went up to testify on Pate’s character acted in sincerity, but also posed that these people had viewed a distinctive side from the one shown at court.
“We saw another side during trial,” he said.
When Daryl Wiley, Pate’s brother, testified about Pate not hesitating to care for others, Hall asked how he squared this view of her character with the one in court, since Wiley had attended the trial.
“I really can’t,” Wiley said. “ I thought about it in depth. I don’t know if things could have been different, if she would have taken the opportunity. It’s tough.”
For the sentencing, the defense did not ask for a complete dismissal of jail time but a lesser sentence, not to be served in prison. Prosecution put forth 18 years, but Scott Robert Grubman, of the defense, said that even 64 months would not be a light sentence.
Rhodes brought up Pate’s background as support in rejecting a lighter sentencing.
“I think it’s important to note that she’s had advantages in life that 90 percent of defendants haven’t. Yet, none of that was a deterrent for her stealing nearly one-million dollars,” she said. “This isn’t stealing a pair of shoes. This is a long, calculated theft.”
Rhodes also submitted that Pate’s actions did not come out of need.
“Why does a wealthy person steal?” She asked. “It’s greed.”
Hall agreed and spoke on it during sentencing.
“Because Pate was a person of means and privilege, it seems to this court that her actions weren’t based on need but greed,” he said.
He also pointed out that her actions hurt those in need, particularly the elderly but overall, Americans. The fact that she attempted to cover up her actions, he said, were particularly egregious.
“When you steal money from the government, you steal money from every American citizen,” Hall said.