Former VA doctor sentenced to 20 years in prison

Robert Levy

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal court sentencing hearing that commenced Thursday for a former VA pathologist, who pleaded guilty in the death of a patient that he misdiagnosed while intoxicated at the Fayetteville hospital, will continue this morning.

Robert Morris Levy, 54, had pleaded guilty last June to involuntary manslaughter and to one count of mail fraud under an agreement with prosecutors in exchange for the dismissal of multiple other charges.

Levy worked at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks hospital in Fayetteville. The indictment says he was hired in 2005 for the position of chief of pathology, where he was in charge of the entire pathology laboratory.

The hospital has said Levy was terminated because he was found to be impaired on duty twice, once in March 2016 and again in October 2017.

A federal grand jury indicted Levy in August 2019 on 12 counts of wire fraud, 12 counts of mail fraud, four counts of making false statements in certain matters and three counts of involuntary manslaughter.

In the deaths, Levy is accused of falsifying entries in his patients’ records after making incorrect and misleading diagnoses. In one case, a patient died of prostate cancer after Levy determined that his biopsy showed he didn’t have cancer, prosecutors allege.

Prosecutors say a second patient died of squamous cell carcinoma after Levy misdiagnosed the patient with another form of carcinoma. In a third case, the indictment states, a patient with small cell carcinoma was treated for a type of cancer he didn’t have, following an incorrect diagnosis by Levy, and died.

In two cases, he was accused of falsifying patients’ medical records to state that a second pathologist agreed with his diagnosis.

VA officials said in 2019 that outside pathologists reviewed nearly 34,000 cases handled by Levy and found more than 3,000 errors or missed diagnoses dating back to 2005. Levy has acknowledged that he once showed up to work at the Fayetteville hospital drunk in 2016, but he denied that he had worked while impaired.

He entered an in-patient treatment program following that incident and completed it that fall. He returned to work in October 2016 after agreeing to remain sober and submitting to random drug testing.

On 12 occasions beginning in June 2017 and continuing through 2018, while Levy was contractually obligated to submit to random drug and alcohol screening, he purchased for personal consumption 2-methyl-2-butanol, a chemical that would intoxicate him but for which standard drug and alcohol screenings don’t test.

According to the indictment, Levy devised a scheme to defraud the VA and to obtain money and property in the form of salary, benefits and performance awards he would not have received had the VA known he was intentionally concealing his noncompliance with the drug and alcohol tests.

Levy is also accused of making false statements to a special agent of the VA's Office of the Inspector General and making false statements in health care matters by entering information in a patient’s medical records that he knew to be false as well as making a false statement during a grievance hearing related to his employment.

In October 2017, Levy was again found to be impaired. Although Levy admits showing up to work drunk in 2016, he says he had a misinterpreted complex migraine in 2017 and was arrested for a DUI, which was ultimately dismissed.

Levy was arrested in August 2019 following a yearlong investigation conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyra Jenner and Bryan Achorn are prosecuting the case in U.S. District Court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction, Carthage and Webb City.