A clinic worker gets 5-year jail term for stealing the protected health information of Kirkbride Center’s mentally ill patients and selling them to identity thieves. Jean Baptiste Alvarez, age 43, a resident of Aldan, Philadelphia worked in the behavior health care facility. He stole daily census sheets containing important information of patients such as names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information. The information can be used for stealing identities and submitting fraudulent tax returns in the name of the patient.
Alvarez was not easily caught while stealing the data because the sheets were kept in a place that didn’t have security cameras in place. He got $1,000 per census sheet while his co-conspirators submitted 164 fraudulent tax returns using the patients’ information. The IRS lost $232,612 in tax revenue because of this.
Alvarez was charged with conspiracy to defraud, misuse of Social Security numbers and aggravated identity theft in early 2016. Aggravated identity theft carried at least a two-year sentence. The maximum sentence for all counts was 24 years in jail and three years of supervise release plus fine. Judge Michael M. Baylson sentenced Alvarez with 5 years in jail, 3 years of supervised release and a $266,985 restitution plus $500 special assessment fine.
Alvarez made an appeal to reduce his sentence claiming that it was excessively harsh as his victims were not “vulnerable.” He reasoned that he did not target the center’s patients because of their mental illness or drug addiction issues. He simply had the opportunity and access that’s why he stole their information.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit did not favor his appeal to reduce the sentence – the 5-year jail term stands. Judge D. Michael Fisher ruled that Alvarez’ argument was without merit. The victims were vulnerable because they had mental health and drug addiction issues. Also noted was the fact that the patients were not working, so it was unlikely for IRS to detect the fraud without any duplicate claim. There’s likewise no way for the patients to know about the fraud because of their illness.
This incident warns healthcare workers that they could possibly be thrown in jail for stealing patients’ personal information. The Department of Justice is aggressive in pursuing cases such as PHI theft, tax fraud and identity theft. Offenders will be punished to the full extent of the law.