Law360 (May 14, 2020, 10:10 PM EDT) -- A Texas federal judge denied a request for compassionate release of a Houston psychiatrist serving a 12-year prison sentence for her role in a $158 million Medicare fraud scheme, ruling Thursday that the bid stems from a "generalized fear of contracting COVID-19" while lacking any "extraordinary and compelling reason."
U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. denied the request for the compassionate release of Sharon Iglehart, whom a jury convicted in 2015 of charges related to health care fraud for her part in a yearslong scheme involving phony Medicare and Medicaid claims for mental health treatment. The judge found the bid fails to present evidence that Iglehart has a medical condition that renders her immunocompromised.
On top of that, the judge said, Iglehart's daughter Morgan Lynette Ross brought the request to the court even though she lacks authorization to do so.
"The court understands Ross's concern for her mother and desire to have her released from prison, but Ross is not a lawyer and cannot act in federal court as if she were a lawyer," Judge Werlein wrote. "Accordingly, this motion is subject to dismissal because Ross is not authorized by law to represent Iglehart in this case."
Iglehart is currently housed at a Texas minimum-security prison with other women serving time for white-collar offenses. She is one of 16 people convicted in a scheme in which practitioners submitted about $158 million in false and fraudulent claims for partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient treatments for severe mental illness, through Houston's Riverside General Hospital between 2006 and 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Iglehart also personally billed Medicare for individual psychotherapy and other treatment of patients at other Riverside locations, which she never actually provided, according to prosecutors. The psychiatrist was further shown to have falsified the medical records of patients at Riverside's inpatient facility to make it appear as if she had provided psychiatric treatment when she did not, the government said.
Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Iglehart requested compassionate release from the warden at her prison camp, which was denied last month. Iglehart's daughter then filed a motion for compassionate release on her mother's behalf, claiming the 64-year-old is at greater risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19 should she contract the virus. She said her mother suffers from hypertension, prediabetes, petit mal seizures and polycystic breast disease.
But Judge Werlein said there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Federal Prison Camp Bryan as of May 12, and that Iglehart's intake form says she did not have a history of seizures. Furthermore, the judge said there is no evidence that Iglehart sought treatment for diabetes or experienced any petit mal seizures in the nearly four years that she has been at the prison.
"Assuming, without deciding, that Iglehart has the medical conditions that Ross claims she does, none of these conditions are alleged to be terminal illnesses," the judge said.
The judge said extraordinary and compelling reasons for early release may include a defendant over 65 years old who is experiencing serious mental or physical deterioration, if that person has served 10 years or 75% of their sentence, or if a defendant were the only person available to care for a child or an incapacitated partner.
The DOJ declined to comment. Representatives for Iglehart could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The government is represented by Catherine E. Wagner of the U.S. Department of Justice' Criminal Division.
Counsel information for Iglehart could not immediately be determined Thursday.
The case is U.S. v. Iglehart, case number 4:13-cr-00746, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
--Editing by Breda Lund.
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