FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Former VA pathologist Dr. Robert Levy entered a guilty plea on two of 31 counts against him on Thursday, June 11 via a video conference hearing.
The 20-page plea deal was for one count of mail fraud and one count of involuntary manslaughter.
The mail fraud charge (Count 13) carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, $250,000 fine, and 36 months of supervised release.
The involuntary manslaughter charge (Count 29) carries a maximum sentence of eight years, $250,000 fine, and 36 months of supervised release.
The hearing was handled via a Zoom call with U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks, Western District of Arkansas.
“This is a complex case,” said Judge Brooks after accepting Levy’s plea agreement. For that reason, the judge said it may take up to four months to determine how much prison time the former pathologist will serve.
The pathologist is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three patients, according to court documents. He’s accused of misdiagnosing patients and then changed their records to try and hide his mistakes.
The former Fayetteville, Arkansas pathologist had been in practice for more than 20 years. He specialized in general pathology, hemapathology, anatomic and clinical pathology.
Levy, 53, worked for the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks. He was paid $232,547 per year, according to today’s hearing. He was terminated in April 2018.
In 2016, Levy appeared to be intoxicated on duty. He voluntarily entered a three-month in-patient treatment program, which he completed in October 2016.
In 2018, during a drug and alcohol test, it revealed Levy’s BAC was .396.
COURT PROCEEDING BREAKDOWN
Dr. Robert Morris Levy was the lead pathologist for the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHSO) for more than a decade.
On Thursday, June 11, Levy was not dressed in scrubs, but in stripes — jail stripes.
Levy, wearing a black mask because of COVID-19, appeared before U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks, Western District of Arkansas (Fayetteville) via video conference and entered guilty pleas on two of 31 Counts against him involving mail and wire fraud and involuntary manslaughter.
Judge Brooks said it was not “a normal federal court proceeding” and offered Levy the right to appear in person at a later date. Levy declined.
- 12 Counts wire fraud
- 12 Counts mail fraud
- 2 Counts false statements related to a health matter
- 2 Counts false statements to officials
- 3 Counts involuntary manslaughter
Previously, Levy pleaded not guilty to the 31 Counts. But, he informed the court he wanted to change two charges to “guilty” — Count 13 for mail fraud and Count 29 for involuntary manslaughter.
“The court has been informed that you want to change pleas,” said Judge Brooks. “Should you make a false answer to the court today, you could be subject to additional charges like perjury.”
Levy was offered the option of conferring with his attorneys if he did not understand any of the question and could do so in a separate Zoom room.
The clerk then swore in Levy.
The former pathologist, 53, said he lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is not married, does not have any children, is in good health, and had not taken any medications or substances to impair his ability to understand the hearing.
The judge reminded Levy that he did not have to change his plea and that by doing so he’s waiving his right to a trial. “In a trial, you have the presumption of innocence,” said Judge Brooks. “You understand you’re waving those rights.”
Levy said he understood and wanted to to continue with entering guilty pleas.
Count 13 was for mail fraud, ordered online, on June 30, 2017, and shipped on July 2, 2017.
Count 29 was for involuntary manslaughter. It relates to a patient JRG, a former Airforce veteran, treated in February 2014.
Each plea carries a fine of $250,000, three years supervised release, and a few hundred dollars “special assessment.” The manslaughter charge is a maximum of eight years in prison; mail fraud a maximum of 20 years.
Upon sentencing, which will be at a later date, the judge will decide if the sentences run concurrently or consecutively. Judge Brooks said sentencing may take months because “it’s a complex case.”
The 20-page written plea agreement was dated and signed on June 1 by the attorneys and Levy.
“Has anyone promised you a particular sentence?” the judge asked. “No,” said Levy.
Of the 20-page agreement, the court clerk read the facts into the record from page two to page 10.
Stated into record were Levy’s education, medical residencies and fellowship.
VHSO hired Levy in 2005 as Chief of Pathology. His medical license was issued in Mississippi in 1997 and allowed him to practice medicine at VHSO, which is operated by the Veterans Administration.
The facts read into record also included some background about VHSO, where the company operates, and Levy’s job duties. Upon termination, April 13, 2018, his pay was $232,547.
COUNT 13: MAIL FRAUD
On March 22, 2016, Levy appeared “impaired … and was immediately tested.” His blood alcohol content (BAC) was .396. He was suspended and the Mississippi state licensing board was notified. Levy entered a rehab program in July 2016 and completed on Oct. 8, 2016. He returned to work on October 13, 2016. All test results showed no drugs or alcohol in his system. Levy was required to maintain sobriety —and he agreed to abstain from alcohol and mood-altering substances, was on notice his license would be revoked if he failed to meet the “sobriety” guidelines, and he would lose his job at VHSO.
Prosecutors state in the court document that “in June 2017, while in a monitoring program, and working at VHSO he bought a substance — 2M2B —knowing this would not be found [detected]during drug tests.”
He used 2M2B to “get the effect [of alcohol intoxication],” the document states. “He misled the Mississippi board.” He intentionally manipulated the board by consuming 2M2B and knew it would not be detected by drug and alcohol testing.
He shipped in interstate commerce from Virginia to his home in Fayetteville, Arkansas by UPS.
“The federal government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that using his personal email address receipts on July 2, 2017, he had shipped by UPS (an interstate carrier) to Fayetteville in a scheme to defraud.
COUNT 29: INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER
An Air Force veteran’s diagnosis was incorrect, and work finalized was incorrect by Levy on February 4, 2014.
The man was identified as JRG.
Levy “finalized the error” in JRG’s medical record on February 5, 2014. Another pathologist found the error, reviewed and concurred that Levy knew he made a false statement. The doctor wrote a letter to Levy on February 6, 2014, and recommended further testing. “I am concerned about this case,” the doctor wrote. Levy did not heed to the recommendation … and never corrected the false statement. Based on Levy’s incorrect diagnosis, doctors began treating JRG for a type of cancer he did not have. On February 10, 2014, for a second time, the diagnosis was incorrect by Levy. On July 26, 2014, JRG died because he was not treated for the right type of cancer, the court plea agreement states.
“The government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt with gross and criminal negligence … produced death by an erroneous diagnosis. This conduct happened at VHSO by Levy.”
“I plead guilty,” said Levy when asked by the judge if he understood the facts entered into the record on counts 13 and 29.
The judge said it may take about four months to determine a sentence for Levy’s actions.
The judge remanded Levy back to custody and adjourned the hearing.