7 plead guilty to insurance fraud

By The Associated Press

BRANDON, Miss. (AP) — Seven people have pleaded guilty to charges of insurance involving the State and School Employees Health Insurance Plan.

The pleas were entered Friday and Monday in Rankin County Circuit Court. Charges are pending against seven others.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Mississippi administers the health plans for the state.

An indictment alleged three Blue Cross/Blue Shield employees processed claims for up to $44,000 to at least 11 state employees for reimbursement for medical procedures that never occurred.

The attorney general’s office said the state employees cashed the checks and kicked back some of the money to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield employees, with the total loss to the state equaling more than $500,000. Authorities said Blue Cross/Blue Shield made full restitution to the state.

The investigation began when a participant returned her check to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which contacted authorities. Authorities said the company cooperated with the investigation.

Those entering pleas before Circuit Judge John Emfinger were:

— Kwame Smith, 30, of Greenville, was sentenced to 10 years in prison with five years’ supervised probation and $69,232 and restitution to Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

— Contessa Davis, 37, of Jackson, entered an open plea, meaning she threw herself on the mercy of the court. Sentencing was set for Sept. 27.

— Christine Degrate, 34, of Jackson, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $27,568 to Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

— Shantwana Johnson, 36, of Jackson, entered an open plea. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 27.

— Veronica Newell, 43, of Jackson, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and pay restitution of $149,216 to Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

— Tiana Whitsett, 35, of Jackson, is scheduled to be sentenced in March 2012 because she is pregnant.

— Isis Young, 34 of Jackson, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and to pay $93,512 in restitution to Blue Cross/Blue Shield.