On February 26, 2006 her office was raided for the first time under the guise of Medicare/Medicaid fraud. She had done nothing fraudulent, had completely cooperated with sessions with Medicaid, explaining everything she was doing, and was never told to stop or change her procedures. For two years her lawyer went round and round with a room full of agents. He said to me, “I don’t know what you did, but I’ve never been in a room with that many government agents before.” He could do nothing to get the charges dropped. “They’ll go after $10.00 because they have the money [and the power] behind them.” Because her nurse practitioners had charged some visits to her Medicare number instead of theirs when she was out of town at a seminar, it seemed that going to trial was a lost cause. Even though their understanding was that as long as the nurse practitioner was continuing the doctor’s treatment plan with the doctor’s patient, the doctor’s number should be used, that didn’t matter.
A plea agreement was agreed upon, based on 6 patient visits charged to Dr. Cheek’s number instead of Dennis and MaryEllen Cotellese. That made the “crime” cost the government a maximum of $66, since the difference in payment between the doctor’s number and the nurse practitioner’s was $11 per incident. That plea agreement was signed on December 7, 2007. The hearing before the judge was scheduled for February 28, 2008 The evening before, Dr. Cheek was called in to her lawyer’s office. The government had added the alternative medicine evaluations on pain patients as part of the fraud charges. That completely changed the picture. But since the plea agreement had already been signed, it was impossible to change. She was forced to accept charges that weren’t true. Supposedly the US Attorney at the time, John Brownlee, was trying to be appointed to a judge position. Having spent 2 years with multiple agents and only showing a cause for $66 overbilling didn’t set well with him. So he rewrote the plea agreement. With supposedly only 6 month probation as the probable sentence versus 20 years in prison and the cost of going to trial was estimated at $1.5 million, Dr. Cheek still agreed to the plea agreement.
Another thing she was surprised about was all the lies the US Attorney put in the argument before the judge. She was told that the judge knew that the government argument would be full of lies, not to worry. But when it came time to be before the judge, the Assistant US Attorney, Pat Hogeboom, spewed forth all those lies which the defense could not retaliate against. The judge accepted them as fact. Dr. Cheek could say nothing in her defense, or the judge would not accept the plea agreement and she would have to go to trial. So she had to sit there and agree to the charges. That was one of the hardest things she has ever had to do in her life—say she had done something intentional when it was not the case, and what they were saying she did hadn’t even been done.
Of course, the reason for all the lies was for self-gain and MONEY. By adding the financial costs of the alternative evaluations (which the patients paid from $40 to $75 out of pocket because it wasn’t covered by insurance), the government asked for remuneration. Judge Conrad awarded them $24,000 in restitution. That was a big surprise. Since Dr. Cheek was making no personal income at that time in her practice, that was a lot of money to come up with. Her practice, a rural practice made up of mostly Medicare, Medicaid, disabled, and uninsured, she had been only able to pay expenses through most of her startup practice. Judge Conrad also gave Dr. Cheek 4 years of probation instead of the projected 6 months.