By Patsy R. Brumfield | NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Batesville physician Robert S. Corkern pleaded guilty Monday to bribing a former Panola County administrator in a multi-million-dollar medical fraud case.
In taking the plea deal, Corkern avoids trial with two co-defendants, Tupelo health care executive Raymond L. Shoemaker and Lee Garner, a Batesville businessman, who were indicted Feb. 24.
They are scheduled for trial beginning Feb. 21 in Oxford before Senior U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr.
All three were accused of varying roles in a kickback and bribery scheme generally focussed on delivery of nursing services to Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville.
Corkern originally was charged with five counts but was allowed to plead guilty to only one. The bribery count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Monday, Corkern stood before Biggers and admitted he bribed David Chandler to ensure himself access to $200,000 in public money used as part of his $500,000 earnest money deposit to buy the hospital in 2005.
A few weeks ago, unindicted co-conspirator Chandler pleaded guilty to an unrelated federal crime.
Corkern, a 51-year-old emergency room physician, is likely to join Chandler on the witness stand against Shoemaker and Garner. Ultimately, their sentences will be calculated against their level of cooperation with prosecutors.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure is aware of Corkern’s federal court situation.
Dr. Vann Craig, MBML executive director, told the Daily Journal the case isn’t likely to be dealt with for a few months, and in the meantime, Corkern may continue to practice medicine. Craig said a doctor’s license can be taken if the doctor commits a crime “of moral turpitude.”
Corkern is no stranger to the state licensure board, which in January 2010 put restrictions on his medical license. Ten months before, MBML investigators searched his Batesville office for information relating to prescriptions for Class II narcotics.
In May and July 2010, the board declined to lift those restrictions, but in September 2011 the board fully reinstated his license.
Corkern and Chandler will not be sentenced until the U.S. Parole Service completes a report for their judges to consider before sentencing.
Once the hospital’s administrator, Corkern purchased the facility in November 2005 from Panola County/Batesville, and Shoemaker became its chief executive.
Prosecutors claim he and Shoemaker lied during the finance application process and kept part of the line of credit intended for hospital operations.
In August 2007, the hospital went into bankruptcy.