SEATTLE, Nov. 6 -- A technician at a cancer center was sentenced to 16 months in prison for stealing the identity of a gravely ill patient, who spent months trying to clear his name while the disease ravaged his body.
The technician, Richard W. Gibson, 42, is the first person in the nation sentenced under a new law designed to protect patient privacy, federal prosecutors said Friday. Gibson will be required to pay at least $15,000 in restitution, including reimbursing patient Eric Drew for the time and money he spent trying to clear his name.
Drew, 37, of Los Gatos, Calif., said that while he was lying in a hospital bed, dying from cancer and weak from massive doses of chemotherapy, he began to get mail thanking him for opening accounts he knew nothing about.
"Nobody seemed to empathize or care about this situation whatsoever, and my doctors and family wanted me to drop it because they were worried about the huge amount of stress this was placing on me," Drew said in a videotape played in court. "They were afraid it would actually cause my impending bone marrow transplant to fail."
After a maddening six months of calling the companies, police, reporters and collection agencies, Drew discovered through a television reporter's efforts that Gibson, a technician at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where Drew received the first of his two bone marrow transplants last fall, had stolen his identity.
"I am very sorry about what I did," Gibson told U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez.
The judge said he believed Gibson was remorseful but did not believe his explanation that he needed the money. "You didn't pay a mortgage. You didn't pay heating bills," Martinez said. "You bought video games. You bought jewelry. You took advantage of that position of trust you were in . . . for the most base reason of all: greed."