Anchorage physician Dr. Shubhranjan Ghosh buried his face in his hands Wednesday as a judge sentenced him to three and a half years in prison for Medicaid fraud and tampering with evidence.
Superior Court Judge Philip Volland handed down the sentence for the white-collar crime, explaining a penalty including only probation and restitution would send the wrong message to the community.
"He would have enjoyed the fruits of his fraud for as long as he could have gotten away with it," Volland said. Those fruits, according to the judge's sentencing remarks, included spending the stolen Medicaid funds on gambling, women, drugs and vacations.
Ghosh also was order to pay $605,000 in restitution.
The state said Ghosh enrolled the help of his office manager Nathaniel Carter, and he manipulated his employee -- a felon with far less education than the doctor -- to commit the crimes.
"He had an employee who always pressed the button," said assistant district attorney Jonas Walker.
The defense argued the opposite. Carter pressured Ghosh to commit fraud, said defense lawyer Ronald Offret. He said his client learned of the "embezzlement" after an audit and admitted to fraud after he realized what happened.
Ghosh originally faced charges that he fraudulently billed more than $1 million to Medicaid over the course of about four years. Ghosh was the sole practitioner at Ghosh Psychiatric Services in South Anchorage.
In the course of the investigation, Carter recorded a conversation with the doctor in which Ghosh admitted to the fraud.
As part of a plea deal, the state agreed to drop 23 charges related to Medicaid fraud. Numerous drug charges were also dismissed, which stemmed from allegations Ghosh had a prescription drug problem and he provided opiate prescriptions for friends.
Ghosh primarily treated children with mental health issues. According to sentencing remarks, Ghosh continued to run his practice for 15 months while wearing an ankle monitor while awaiting his sentencing.
Outside the courtroom, parents of patients worried about where their children would get help now that Ghosh is behind bars. Mary Storrs took her daughter to Ghosh's office for a decade.
"He's the anchor for us," Storrs said. "He pulled my daughter away from suicide multiple times."
Storrs said she realized Ghosh has to be held accountable for his actions, but said she thought the sentence was harsh.
But Walker urged the court to avoid handing down a lenient sentence just to give Ghosh a better chance of retaining his medical license. The state medical board will decide the future of Ghosh's license, prosecutors said.
Ghosh will be barred from billing Medicaid for at least five years regardless of the medical board's decision, Walker said.
The prosecutor said it was better for the Medicaid program and the community to appropriately punish the physician. A sentence that includes jail time would help uphold the integrity of the program, he said.
Ghosh said he gave Carter too much power and hired the felon without a proper background check. The doctor said he knew he made mistakes.
"I just wanted to be a doctor, and not deal with the business," he said.
"I do not leave the clinic without looking at the bills. I'm more careful and cautious about documentation," Ghosh said, adding he was hoping to restore his image and the community's trust.