COLUMBIA, SC — For Chandra Padgett, the trusted bookkeeper at an Irmo doctor’s office, her workplace wasn’t just a job – it was a giant piggy bank she could raid for money.
Lots of money.
Next week, according to documents filed in federal court in Columbia, Padgett has agreed to plead guilty to embezzling $1.9 million from Advanced Pain Therapies in Irmo. She worked there as its accountant, office manager and billing coordinator.
Padgett, of Chapin, is scheduled to appear before U.S. Judge Joe Anderson on June 6, according to records in her case.
The case is among the largest known embezzlements in recent Midlands history. It also involves a medical practice that took in hundreds of thousands of Medicare dollars each year.
Advanced Pain Therapies is a doctor-run practice that provides pain management and other medical services to patients, according to a federal information in the case. An “information” is the statement of charges to which a defendant has agreed to plead guilty.
“We have cooperated fully with the investigation and look forward to resolving this case soon,” said Padgett’s attorney, Jack Duncan of Lexington.
According to the information, between 2008-2010, Padgett devised a scheme to steal money from Advanced Pain Therapies by two major methods: first, by creating “totally fraudulent invoices” and second, by “the improper increase” of her own salary.
The “false and fraudulent company” company that Padgett created went by the name PSS, which was the same name as the primary vendor of the doctor’s practice.
“Padgett created checks made payable to her company PSS and hid them among the legitimate invoices and did also make payments to her personal American Express cards from APT accounts and disguised them as payments to legitimate PSS invoices,” the information said.
She also bumped her own salary up “without authorization” and then had that money directly deposited into her own personal back account, the information said.
The information also says that Padgett owes $289,032 in back federal taxes for her income of $849,967 from the year 2011. This failure to pay taxes constitutes a wilful “attempt to evade and defeat the income tax due,” the information says.
The information also orders Padgett to forfeit $1.9 million to the government.
In her plea agreement, Padgett has agreed to cooperate with the government and provide it information. Depending on how valuable her cooperation is to the government, and other factors – she does not have a criminal record, Duncan said, for example – she could receive considerably less time in prison than the 25 years maximum time the charges against her expose her to.
The doctor who runs Advanced Pain Therapies, William Odom, asked his attorney, Karl Smith of Hartsville, to comment on the case.
Smith said that for years, Padgett was a trusted worker for Odom. They had met when he was an emergency room physician at Newberry Hospital, and when Odom opened a private practice in Irmo, he asked her to join him to handle the financial side of his business.
She agreed, saying she would join him, but as an independent contractor, not as an employee, Smith said.
Several years ago, Odom began to notice “liquidity problems” with the financial side of his office and hired several accountants to look into the matter. One, a forensic accountant whose specializes in white-collar theft methods, discovered a problem with money being siphoned out of the accounts, Smith said. That’s when he and Odom notified authorities, Smith said.
“Any doctor you talk to is pretty much going to tell you they leave the day-to-day operation of their business to others – they are so busy tending to their patients,” Smith said. “They have to have others assist them in that area.”
According to the New York Times database of Medicare payments to 800,000 medical providers across the country, Odom received $903,826 in Medicare Part B payments during 2012. Those payments are payments patients make to doctors for doctor’s visits, tests and other procedures.
The payments to individual doctors were made available to that newspaper earlier this year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They are now part of a public database on the Internet.
Bill Nettles, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, said, “In the past two years, we have made a concerted effort to target white-collar crime. Citizens of South Carolina can expect to see increased white collar prosecutions.”
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.