Woman sentenced in hospital identity theft

Published 6:38 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Montgomery woman has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for stealing patient information from Troy Regional Medical Center.

Angeline Austin, 41, was convicted of one count of conspiring to defraud the Government regarding claims, one count of fraud in connection with identification documents, one count of computer fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, according to a statement from George L. Beck, Jr., United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

While working for Southern Records Management between June 13 2010 and March 25, 2011, Austin took about 880 names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of patients who had been cared for at Troy Regional Medical Center. Authorities said she then sold the information to another person who filed fraudulent tax returns, receiving about $6,500 and $8,000 for her part in the scheme.

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The IRS, believing that the tax returns were legitimate, deposited tax refunds onto pre-paid debit cards and sent them to people working with Austin. The debit cards were then cashed out at ATM machines.

The hospital learned of the thefts in May 2011.

TRMC told the Messenger in June 2012 that the theft didn’t involve medical records and was limited to patients born between 1988 and 1992.

Following notification of the security breech, the hospital provided one year of free identity protection to the patents affected and required immediate, mandatory training regarding protecting patient information to all 315 employees and contractors working at TRMC.

At the recent sentencing hearing, one of the victims, whose identity Austin stole, testified that he used to work at a defense contracting company making more than $100,000 a year. His job at the defense contracting company required him to maintain a top-secret security clearance. As a result of Austin stealing his identity, his credit was severely impacted and his security clearance was suspended. Because his security clearance was suspended, he was fired from his job. He now works at a fast food restaurant making minimum wage. As a member of the Air National Guard, the victim’s military duties have been scaled back because of the suspended security clearance. The lack of income has severely affected his family. His wife had to quit nursing school; his daughter, who sings in her school choir, couldn’t go on several choir trips where the family had to pay for the trips; and his son had to decrease his trips with his sport’s teams.

According to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Teresa Grimes, chief executive officer of Troy Regional Medical Center, also testified at Austin’s sentencing hearing. She told the Court that Austin had access to all of Troy Medical Center’s patients’ information because Austin’s job was to provide patients, and other authorized individuals, copies of their medical records. Although Austin was employed by the hospital as a contractor, Troy Medical Center trained her, as they did all hospital employees, about Federal and States laws requiring the protection of patients’ privacy and personal information. Grimes further explained at the hearing that Troy Medical Center has been operating at a loss for years and that the hospital was very concerned that it may be fined over $1.5 million dollars for violations of Federal and State of Alabama health care privacy laws stemming from Austin stealing the patients’ identities. This fine could severely impact the capability to operate the only hospital in Troy.

“These identity thieves are becoming more bold,” said U.S. Attorney Beck. “However, my office is unrelenting, and we will not let up on these criminals. We cannot, and will not, allow these criminals to continue to prey on our citizens.”

The resident U.S. Secret Service agent in charge of the case said Austin was only one of the defendants who stole identities from TRMC, Montgomery high schools and other hospitals in Montgomery and Atlanta.

The illegal activity resulted in about $1.6 million dollars in loss to legitimate taxpayers. Austin was sentenced to 65 months in federal prison for her part in the crime.