Auburn cardiologist accused of implanting unnecessary cardiac stents

Auburn cardiologist indicted for implanting unnecessary cardiac stents
(Photo source: EAMC website)
(Photo source: EAMC website)

AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - A federal grand jury in Montgomery indicted cardiologist 60-year-old John W. Mitchell of Auburn, Ala., on health care fraud charges.

These charges are in connection with a scheme in which Dr. Mitchell allegedly submitted false claims for inserting unnecessary heart stents and falsely documented patient medical records, announced George L. Beck, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama; Derrick Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services; and Robert Lasky, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the 10-count indictment, Mitchell has a private medical practice known some times as The Heart Center Cardiology, and at other times as the Institute for Advanced Cardiovascular Care, located in Auburn, Ala.  He also had hospital privileges at East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) in Opelika, Ala.

From at least January 2006 to February 2012, Mitchell allegedly performed cardiac catheterizations on patients at EAMC and falsely recorded in the patients' medical records the existence or extent of the coronary artery blockage which he observed during the procedures. A coronary stent was not considered medically necessary absent a diagnosis of at least a 70 percent blockage.

In an apparent attempt to increase his profit, Mitchell is alleged to have implanted stents in patients who did not have a 70 percent or more blockage in their arteries while falsely recording otherwise in their medical records.  The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $450,000 from Mitchell.

Mitchell faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each of the two health care fraud counts of the indictment and five years in prison on each of the eight counts of making false statements related to health care matters.  In addition to the federal charges, the 10-count indictment also seeks forfeiture of $450,000 related to the health care fraud scheme and false entries.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt.  An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

This case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Assistant United States Attorneys Bob Anderson and Denise Simpson are prosecuting the case.

Mitchell released the following statement to the media on Friday, May 30:

"I am disappointed that the government has chosen to bring untrue charges against me.  For nearly 30 years, I have faithfully served patients in the Auburn-Opelika area and I am proud of my record. In all my years of practice, I have performed a procedure only if I believed it to be medically necessary and in the best interest of my patient.

"Ever since I started the heart program at EAMC in 1985, my practice has been built on doing what is best for my patients.  I have taken care of patients from all walks of life whether or not they have the ability to pay.  Taking care of patients is my life's calling and I would never betray the trust of the patients who have come to me for care.

"The charges that the government has brought against me are false.  I look forward to my day in court and the opportunity to clear my name."

A statement from the East Alabama Medical Center was also released on Friday, and can be read at this link.

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