Dover woman gets probation in first-ever prescription monitoring conviction

 

Michele C. Staats

DOVER ­— A 46-year-old Dover woman received one year of probation Tuesday following the state’s first conviction under the Delaware Prescription Monitoring Act, but asserted afterward that her quest for justice wasn’t finished.

Former nurse Michele C. Staats (also known as Marvel) claimed she was “railroaded” by witness testimony.

She was convicted of unlawful access to prescription monitoring program information (three counts) and providing a false statement to a law enforcement officer.

The case stemmed from allegations that Staats illegally accessed prescription information while serving as director of nursing at Kent Sussex Community Services, beginning in January 2014 and continuing for 16 months.

On Tuesday, the prosecution alleged that she illegally accessed private patient medical information 48 times.

In announcing the sentence, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clark said he didn’t believe prison time — possibly up to 17 years — was appropriate for the violations of public trust and ethical standards as a nurse, along with a lack of information on purported motivation and “surrounding circumstances.”

Also ordered, among other stipulations, was 50 hours of community service.

Ms. Staats, who appeared in court alone on Tuesday, was convicted after a five-day bench trial before Judge Clark. A previous trial before now-retired Judge Robert B. Young was declared a mistrial after one day of testimony.

The monitoring offense was established by the state legislature in 2010. Judge Clark said it was new enough that no sentencing recommendations were available.

Speaking before the court, defense attorney Andre’ Beauregard pointed to a looming appeal based on a previous mistrial, motions to suppress evidence and witness credibility concerns.

He declined comment after sentencing.

Initially struggling to stay composed before the court, Staats said she was “sorry” and had “dedicated my life to two things — being a good mother and nurse.

“I’ve accomplished one but not another,” she said.

Also, the defendant referenced what she described as a decade of supporting substance abuse care and treatment for those in need. Her attorney said she has now “lost everything.”

Before sentencing, Mr. Beauregard pointed to a low-risk assessment for Staats to re-offend. The conviction’s fallout punished her through a loss of career, income, humiliation, and shame, he said.

“The way she was raised, she never thought she’d be part of the system …” Mr. Beauregard said.

“If the court could see into her heart and mind, her pound of flesh has been given many times over.”

‘Denying her responsibility’

Also, according to the attorney, no testimony had shown how any persons were damaged or “hurt in any way.”

Deputy Attorney General Tiphanie Miller — who prosecuted the case with Laura Najemy — maintained the defendant had shown “no remorse or acceptance of responsibility.”

The public and patients were harmed by a loss of trust in the monitoring system, Ms. Miller said, and “the defendant’s only concern is herself. This is embarrassing for her.”

Ms. Miller and Ms. Najemy declined comment afterward and referred questions to Delaware Department of Justice spokesman Carl Kanefsky.

“We have no comment on the sentencing,” he said.

When earlier announcing the conviction, the DOJ said, “Staats, using the login credentials of her employer, accessed the Prescription Monitoring Program information of three people who were not her patients.

“Staats also made several false statements denying her responsibility to investigators.”

The DOJ described the goal of the Prescription Monitoring Act “is to help reduce the misuse and diversion of controlled substances while promoting improved professional practice and patient care.”

The case was prosecuted by the DOJ’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Agent Ray Hancock of the Delaware State Police Drug Diversion Unit was the lead investigator, with assistance from MFCU Special Investigators James Armstrong and Patrick Corcoran.

After Tuesday’s sentencing session ended, Staats said more scrutiny was warranted for an investigator who allegedly “released” over 4,500 names of substance abusers during the case.

“If you ask me, that’s a story that needs to be told,” she said.

DOC probation guidelines

Staats will serve two levels of probation at the same time for 12 months:

According to the Delaware Department of Correction online, “Level II is the standard Probation/Parole supervision program. Offenders on Level II supervision are to meet with their Probation Officer on a regular schedule to comply with contact requirements based on risks/needs assessments.

“Level II Probation/parole Officers serve in the traditional roles of counseling.”

Level III entails “Intensive supervision at least the equivalent of one hour of supervision per day and no more than 56 hours of supervision per week.

“The minimum of one hour of supervision per day is achieved through direct offender contact, collateral contact, verification of each offender’s activities (e.g., residence, employment, training and school), and performance with court-ordered treatment and community service.

“The emphasis is on supervision through increased community contacts.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.