The superintendent of a small school district in Indiana was arrested and charged with felony insurance fraud after she took a sick student to the doctor and paid for his treatment with her son’s insurance, police said this week.
Casey Smitherman, who runs the school district in Elwood, Indiana, a town of about 8,500 some 45 miles north of Indianapolis, was arrested and given charges last week, which included official misconduct and identity deception, before being released on bail, according to court records.
Smitherman is being put on a pre-trial diversion program, meaning that if she is not charged in any other incidents, the charges will later be expunged from her record, Rodney Cummings, the county prosecutor told The Washington Post.
The incident occurred on Jan. 9, police said. Smitherman noticed that a 15-year-old student she had helped before – buying clothes for him and also helping clean his house, she told police according to an affidavit – had not shown up at school. She did not want to call the state’s Department of Child Services because she was concerned the child would be placed in a foster home, the affidavit said.
She took the child, who had a sore throat, to a medical facility and checked him in by using her son’s insurance, for an evaluation under her son’s name. She then drove him to a pharmacy where she had an antibiotics prescription filled for the child, again under her son’s name, court records said, and dropped him back at his house.
The total bill for the treatment was $233, the records said. The police, who did not return a request for comment, were alerted about the alleged fraud a week later.
It is not clear who alerted them. Anthem Blue Cross, the insurance that Smitherman had used fraudulently according to records, declined to comment through a spokesman.
The story reverberated around the web this week after it was reported by local news outlets. For some, it served as an illustration of the United States’ health-care woes, as political debates about how to improve insurance coverage continue to swirl.
In this world, Smitherman was hailed by a hero a few commenters online.
Still, she has expressed regret about the situation.
“I would love to go back to that moment and re-do it,” she told a local TV station. “In that moment, I just was really worried. I knew he had strep, I’m a mom, and I knew how dangerous that was for him. And I was worried and I wanted to get him treatment.”
In a statement published by Fox 59, Smitherman said that the first clinic she had taken the teen to had refused to treat him. It was after going to a second clinic that she had decided to tell them that he was her son.
“I knew he did not have insurance, and I wanted to do all I could to help him get well,” the statement said. “I know this action was wrong. In the moment, my only concern was for this child’s health.”
The district’s school board released a statement in support of her as well.
“Dr. Smitherman has tirelessly worked for the best interests of all students in Elwood Community Schools since she was hired. She made an unfortunate mistake, but we understand that it was out of concern for this child’s welfare. We know she understands what she did was wrong, but she continues to have our support,” the statement said, according to Fox 59.
Cummings, the prosecutor, said that he understood that Smitherman was trying to fix a problem.
“I think she’s probably a woman with a big heart that saw a young man in need,” he said. “We live in a couple communities in this county that really have some serious poverty. Elwood is one of those communities and there’s a lot of students that don’t have resources.”
But he said he did not doubt that she should have been charged with a crime. He said that the urgent care centers she had taken the teen to wouldn’t treat him because she wasn’t his guardian, before she tried to pass him off as her son.
“What kind message is that to send to the students you’re in charge of?” he said. “The police asked the charges to be filed. There is a violation of the law. Had I ignored that, I’d be criticized by people who’d claim that some people are above the law.”
He said he didn’t share Smitherman’s feelings that the teen was in serious health risk, saying the teen had a cold.
Smitherman did not respond to a voicemail left on a number for her listed in public records. Her lawyer, Bryan Williams, did not respond to a request for comment.