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Surgeon Cully White sentenced to prison in health care fraud case

April 23, 2014

A suspended Milwaukee-area spine doctor was sentenced Wednesday to six months in prison and six months on house arrest at his Pewaukee Lake mansion after pleading guilty to federal health care fraud.

Cully White, 45, who had surrendered his medical license last year after complaints about substandard surgeries going back to 2004, also was fined $60,000.

The government had recommended a $250,000 fine, noting White has assets of $22 million.

"The greed in this context borders on the obscene," Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Jacobs said. He pointed out that while White was making as much as $10 million a year, he engaged in fraud to net less than $82,000.

"That's the type of fraud that needs real deterrence," Jacobs said.

Based on submission of claims for more than $265,000 in reimbursements for nerve monitoring that never occurred, federal guidelines called for a sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison.

But White's attorney, Dennis Coffey, argued that only some of the claims were paid and that his client obtained only $82,000. Coffey also noted that White had lost his medical license and paid full restitution, and he recommended a short term of probation was the proper sentence.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman said he took those factors, plus White's lack of a criminal record, into account in arriving at his sentence. He added two years of supervision after White's confinement and suggested psychological treatment might be beneficial "because the offense seems so irrational."

White said he realized he made a horrible mistake and didn't take time to understand the billing procedures. He said his prosecution has been "eye opening and humiliating," and that his profession had been a focus of his life.

"I haven't operated since November," he told Adelman. "I truly miss it."

Before surrendering his license, White had been facing four separate complaints filed with the state's Medical Examining Board, whose investigation revealed that despite questionable competence, White had been performing about 600 surgeries a year, twice the rate of peer neurosurgeons.

White was charged in May 2013 with 14 counts of health care fraud. According to an indictment, from November 2010 to October 2011, White recruited another doctor to dictate reports that made it appear the second doctor had conducted "inner-operative nerve monitoring" while White performed surgeries, and he paid the second physician $150 for each report.

The other physician did not conduct the monitoring or even have the required training to do so, according to prosecutors. White used the reports to submit claims to insurance companies for the nerve monitoring services.

White pleaded guilty to a single count.

White obtained his degree from Des Moines University's College of Osteopathic Medicine, and completed residency at Ohio University, according to his website.

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