Dying Medicare scammer handed 75 years

Debates over fairness of jailing offenders typically traverse highly emotional concerns such as over-packing prisons with African-American men and nonviolent drug users.

How about terminally ill mothers of kids?

A federal judge’s recent decision turned a $13-million Medicare crook into a sympathetic figure.

Marie Neba deserves prison. But 75 years worth?

The Houston woman looted Medicare of $13 million. Neba co-owned a home healthcare firm. She recruited healthy seniors — lying they were frail, homebound and needed her firm’s expensive care.

Neba blew our taxpayer money on a pasha’s lifestyle. She was caught and rightfully convicted. Neba should’ve been quietly shuttled to federal prison for at least several years. Yet another cheater swept up by an protracted federal smackdown of Medicare criminals.

Instead, Judge Melinda Harmon inexplicably handed Neba 75 years.

The next-largest Medicare sentence is 50 years, for Lawrence Duran’s $205-million looting of mental-health services in the Miami area. Dr. Farid Fata got 45 years. He inflicted massive doses of painful and disfiguring chemo on healthy patients in the Detroit area.

Neba’s also dying. She has breast cancer that has spread to her lungs and bones. And she’s the mother of twin seven-year-olds.

Harmon struggled to justify 75 years. “I am not a heartless person. I think I am not. I hope I am not …” she told Neba at sentencing. “It’s just the way the system works, the way the law works.”

Justice should be fair, and tough when needed. It’s when sentencing appears robotic and punitive for its own sake that we erode the fairness and public trust that distinguish America from banana republics.

Neba is appealing. It’ll be vigorous debate about judicial discretion and strict adherence to sentencing guidelines. Her appeal deserves a very close look.

About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud