An Arkansas pathologist who misdiagnosed and/or made medical errors in more than 3000 cases while intoxicated has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for manslaughter and mail fraud.
Robert Morris Levy of Fayetteville was chief of pathology and laboratory medical services at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks until he was fired in 2018. Two years earlier, Levy had his clinical privileges suspended when testing revealed a blood alcohol level of .396 mg/dL. He then attended an inpatient alcohol treatment program for 3 months. After treatment completion, he returned to medical practice on condition that he maintain his sobriety and submit to random urine or blood drug screens.
Federal charges were filed after it was discovered that during this time Levy purchased and used 2-methyl-2-butanol (2M-2B), a substance that induces intoxication but is not detectable on drug testing. The colorless, liquid substance has been used as an anesthetic but is also used recreationally.
Levy was accused of entering “inaccurate and misleading” diagnoses while intoxicated that led to at least one patient’s death, as well as adding false information to medical files.
In addition, Levy had the substance mailed across state lines to his home in Fayetteville, which led to mail fraud charges.
After his sentencing trial last week, Levy received 8 years for involuntary manslaughter and 20 years for mail fraud. Because the sentences are concurrent, the maximum time he will serve is 20 years. He was also ordered by the court to pay almost $500,000 in restitution.
“This sentence should send a strong message that those who abuse their positions of trust in caring for veterans will be held accountable,” Michael J. Missal, Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a press release from the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
These patients “deserve to have doctors in charge of their treatment who are dedicated and vigilant, just as these victims were in their service to our country. Instead, this defendant’s criminal conduct in this case caused irreparable harm to the victims and their families,” added David Clay Fowlkes, acting US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.
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Levy first appeared before an “administrative fact-finding panel” in 2015. Although there were reports that he showed signs of alcohol intoxication while on the job, he denied the allegations. A year later, he was again accused of being intoxicated on the job and he acknowledged test results showing a high blood alcohol content.
The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (Fayetteville VA) “summarily suspended Levy’s privileges to practice medicine and issued Levy a written notice of removal and revocation of clinical privileges,” the DOJ reported.
It was during this time that he entered the 3-month, in-patient treatment program that started in July and ended in October 2016. Upon completion, Levy signed a strict new contract undertaking to “abstain completely” from alcohol or any other mood-altering substance. In addition, he agreed to submit to random drug testing and returned to medical practice. Any breach of these conditions would result in the loss of his medical license and employment.
The contract stated that he would “abstain completely” from using any alcohol or mood-altering substance, would submit to random drug screens, and would comply completely with these stipulations or face loss of medical license and employment. Levy then went back to working at the Fayetteville VA.
All blood and urine tests collected from November 2016 through June 2018 were negative for drugs or alcohol. However, it authorities subsequently discovered that Levy had purchased 2M-2B during this period.
When the charges were filed in 2019, Duane “Dak” Kees, US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, said in an interview with 40/29 News that Levy was “skilled in toxicology and had the medical expertise…and the equipment to know exactly how much of this substance to take. He had the ability to do the proper calculus to know how much to use, in order for it not to be fatal.”
In July 2017, a package with 2M-2B was shipped to Levy’s home from a chemical supply company by United Parcel Service, a commercial interstate carrier.
“Wanton, Reckless Disregard”
It also became known that over the course of his career Levy misdiagnosed many patients while he was intoxicated. In February 2014, he diagnosed a VA patient with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma after a “cursory and rudimentary” workup.
He ignored a note from another pathologist asking Levy to perform more tests — and went back and falsely entered into the medical record that a different pathologist had agreed with his diagnosis. After receiving no life-prolonging treatment, the patient, who was a military veteran, died in July 2014 of small cell carcinoma.
“The veteran was not treated for small cell carcinoma due to Levy’s grossly and criminally negligent conduct that demonstrated a wanton and reckless disregard for the veteran’s life,” the DOJ stated.
In total, a review showed that 3007 cases of Levy’s had a patient error or misdiagnosis.
As reported by Medscape Medical News at the time, Levy was indicted by a federal grand jury in August 2019 on twelve counts of both wire fraud and mail fraud, four counts of making false statements, and three counts of involuntary manslaughter. He entered a guilty plea for one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of mail fraud last June.
During the sentencing trial, 40/29 News noted, “sentencing guidelines recommend 9 to 11 years behind bars, but the judge went above and beyond that.”
In addition to receiving a sentence of 240 months to be served in federal prison and then 3 years of supervised release, Levy must pay $497,745.70 in restitution.