Report details Chicago physician amassed $248k+ in unauthorized expenses for piano, flights

A former Chicago-based Cook County Health and Hospitals System physician reportedly spent more than $248,000 on unauthorized expenses like plane tickets, a piano and a radar detector, among other items, during his time at the institution, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Here are seven things to know about the case.

1. CCHHS hired Bala Hota, MD, in 2002 as an attending physician. He quickly rose through the ranks to become the health system's CIO and chief medical information officer.

2. In January 2013, CCHHS performed a review of the health system's returns from the Hektoen Salary Reallocation Account, a fund that allows grant money to be reimbursed if a CCHHS employee spends their time supporting grant-related activities. During the initial review, which spanned September 2011 through August 2012, officials uncovered irregularities and questionable expenditures released from the account to Dr. Hota. The findings of CCHHS' standard internal audit let to a more in-depth internal audit by the health system. CCHHS referred the case to the Office of the Indepent Inspector General in June 2013.

"This wrongdoing was uncovered in a routine audit and we moved quickly in notifying the Office of the Inspector General. Our audit process worked exactly as it is designed to," a spokesperson for CCHHS told the Chicago Tribune.

3. In a total audit of Dr. Hota's expenses between 2010 and 2014, the inspector general's office determined he had spent $274,360 in various expenses, of which $10,227 was considered to be allowed and $15,811 needed additional information, according to the Chicago Tribune.

"The evidence developed during the course of the [investigation] established that the subject doctor was improperly converting funds maintained in the Salary Reallocation Account for personal benefit," the inspector general concluded. "While the subject account lacked adequate internal controls and oversight, the funds were deliberately and intentionally converted by the subject doctor for his personal benefit by fraudulently claiming the reimbursed expenses were work related and in accord with the mission of CCHHS."

4. Among Dr. Hota's purchases were wireless headphones; plane tickets to Beijing and Orlando, Fla., for him and his family; meals; a radar detector; several purchases on iTunes; designer clothing and handbags; and a piano, among other items.

5. The inspector general's office determined Dr. Hota had to repay $248,322 because the expenses violated policy or did not benefit the CCHHS, according to a quarterly report released by the agency in January. The agency completed its investigation into Dr. Hota's conduct in 2016.

6. Dr. Hota resigned from CCHHS in January 2014. Later that year, he accepted a position with Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center. Dr. Hota, who declined to comment to the Chicago Tribune, "recently" informed Rush leadership of the inspector general's report. Rush proceeded to conduct a monthlong investigation into Dr. Hota's expenses and conduct while employed at the medical center.

"Rush determined that all of [Dr. Hota's] work was managed properly and according to Rush guidelines, and that his behavior and conduct at Rush has been exemplary, helping to serve Rush's mission of providing the highest quality care to the community," the medical center told the publication.

7. In 2016, the Cook County state attorney's office determined "there was insufficient evidence to bring charges" against Dr. Hota, according to the report. The county referred Dr. Hota to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation in January 2017. However, he has not been disciplined by the agency.

Dr. Hota repaid the $248,322 in April 2017, more than three years after he resigned from CCHHS.

To access the Chicago Tribune report, click here.

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