Northern District of Iowa | Cedar Rapids nurse sentenced to 5 years in jail for stealing narcotics from three hall hospitals

A Cedar Rapids nurse who diverted narcotics for her own use at four major eastern Iowa health care providers, including three hospitals, in less than two years was sentenced today to five years in federal prison. Sarah Jean Moses, 43, received the sentence after pleading guilty to five felonies in three separate federal counts in 2021 and 2022, namely one charge of tampering with a consumer product, one charge of misrepresentation regarding health matters, one A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation count, a count of acquisition of a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge, and a count of theft of government funds.

In a plea agreement and other hearings in the three cases, evidence showed that the state of Iowa had issued Moses a registered nursing license in 2006. Between 2017 and 2019, Moses acquired various controlled substances from her employers, including opioids such as hydromorphone (also known by the trade name “Dilaudid”), morphine and oxycodone. To do this, Moses secretly tampered with the vials of the controlled substances, replacing the painkiller with saline, and pouring the tampered vials into a secure drug dispensing machine used by the hospital’s doctors and nurses. In order to find out which of her employer’s patients should receive the painkillers, Moses engaged in an illegal practice called “patient combing,” in which Moses used her access to her employer’s computers to examine private patient records. Moses also made false and fabricated statements to her employers and in patient records to cover up her plan.

Specifically, in September 2017, during her first month in the emergency room at a Cedar Rapids hospital, Moses accessed a secure medication dispensing machine that contained vials of hydromorphone. The hydromorphone was intended for patients in the emergency room suffering from pain. Moses also viewed 7 patient records without legal authority at the Cedar Rapids Hospital. After the hospital discovered six tampered with vials in the machine, the hospital terminated Moses’ employment and reported her behavior to the Iowa Board of Nursing (IBON).

In March 2018, during her first month with a large local home health care company, Moses was assigned to care for an elderly resident at Marion’s assisted living facility. A doctor had prescribed the resident oxycodone for leg pain. Unbeknownst to her employer and against the employer’s guidelines, Moses offered to collect the resident’s oxycodone from a nearby major chain grocery store pharmacy. Moses got the painkiller from the pharmacy, but instead of delivering the oxycodone to the patient, Moses diverted 56 oxycodone pills to himself and made a false entry on the patient’s medical chart. The home health care company immediately suspended Moses’ employment and reported her behavior to IBON. Moses never returned to work at the home health care company. Due to Moses’ behavior, the pharmacy changed its policy regarding verifying the identity of people picking up prescription drugs for others.

Between September 2018 and November 2018, Moses worked at an Iowa City hospital. Moses continued her plan to tamper and divert controlled substances at the Iowa City hospital, illegally accessing 64 patient records in the process. Just as she had done at Cedar Rapids Hospital in September 2017, Moses uncapped the vials of hydromorphone and then carefully punctured the vials with the needles and pulled out the hydromorphone. Moses then refilled the vials with saline to make the vials appear as if they still contained hydromorphone. Moses also carefully replaced the caps on the vials to appear as if the vials were undisturbed, when in fact these consumer products no longer contained their declared value of hydromorphone. In this way, Moses made it appear as if the vials remained new, unopened, and filled with the controlled substance on their respective labels, ie vials by themselves. Moses then put the manipulated vials back into the dispensing machine. Moses admitted that she acted with reckless disregard for the risk of putting another person in danger of physical harm and under circumstances that showed extreme indifference to such risk. In November 2018, the Iowa City Hospital terminated Moses’ employment and reported her to IBON.

Between January and March 2019, Moses worked as a nurse for another hospital in Iowa City. Moses continued her plan to manipulate and distract this hospital, stealing hydromorphone, morphine and oxycodone throughout her tenure there. Moses illegally accessed 17 patient records at this hospital, revealing that Moses was “patient’s chamber”. In March 2019, this third hospital terminated the employment of Moses.

Moses later found a job helping a child. Between April and August 2020, Moses stole over $6,000 in fraudulent unemployment benefits from the state of Iowa by underreporting her wages from employment. The federal government had earmarked the unemployment benefits under the CARES Act of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moses was arrested before sentencing after a US judge found she had repeatedly violated the terms of her pre-trial release. During the pre-trial parole, Moses used methamphetamine, did not participate in drug testing and treatment, and possessed an assault rifle. Between August and October 2021, Moses was caught shoplifting six times at the same Cedar Rapids department store chain during his pre-trial release. Moses fled the courthouse in a car after her parole officer told her that a warrant was pending for her pre-trial release violations. A deputy US marshal eventually gave chase and arrested Moses near federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Moses has prior convictions in state court for shoplifting and drunk driving.

Moses was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by US District Court Judge CJ Williams. Moses was sentenced to 60 months in prison. She was ordered to pay the state of Iowa over $6,000 in compensation. She is also required to serve a three-year supervised prison sentence after her sentence. There is no probation in the federal system. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Williams noted that Moses’ case was one of the worst cases of drug theft by a healthcare professional he had seen and called Moses’ behavior at the pre-trial release “miserable.”

United States Attorney Timothy T. Duax stated, “The conduct of Sarah Moses was outrageous. She put patients at three of east Iowa’s major hospitals and a home nurse at serious risk of harm when she substituted saline for needed pain medication. Her punishment is well deserved and will hopefully deter others who might be tempted to steal narcotics from their employers and patients.”

“Patients rely on the assurance that they are receiving FDA-approved drugs to manage their conditions,” said Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Kansas City Field Office. “If healthcare professionals tamper with these needed drugs, we will pursue them and bring them to justice.”

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to pool the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to increase efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The task force is increasing efforts to identify and prosecute the most guilty domestic and international criminal actors and assisting agencies tasked with administering fraud prevention assistance programs, including by expanding and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques for detecting fraudulent actors and their systems, and sharing and utilizing information and lessons learned from previous enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Anyone with information about suspected fraud related to COVID-19 may report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or through the NCDF web complaint form at : https://www .justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

Moses is being held in the custody of the United States Marshal until she can be transferred to federal prison. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy L. Vavricek and Jason Norwood, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clifford Cronk of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, and the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, investigates Iowa Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General

Information on court records at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.

The case record numbers are 21-CR-19, 21-CR-47 and 22-CR-56.

Follow us on Twitter @USAO_NDIA.

Comments are closed.