A former employee of the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College pleaded guilty on Friday to selling information from the personal records of over 50,000 patients. The Associated Press reported that the hospital — the primary teaching facility for Cornell’s Medical School — found out about the breach after patients’ records were discovered in Atlanta by postal inspectors.
Dwight McPherson, the man arrested in connection with the crimes, was said to have been selling information since 2006, when he was approached with a request for the names, phone numbers and social security numbers of male patients between 38 and 58 years old. According to the AP, the information was used for identity theft.
McPherson was released on Saturday under the condition that he not leave the state, but refused to comment to the press. His lawyer, Bob Walters, defended his client, saying, “He is a hardworking, honest man,” according to the AP.
McPherson most recently sold 1,000 records near the end of last year for about $750 and more records a bit later for $600. Those whose identities have been stolen will receive a letter detailing what happened, and have access to a hotline with credit-monitoring services.
News of the identity theft came less than a month after Dr. Claudia Henschke of WCMC was found to have received money for her lung cancer research from Vector Group, the parent company of the Liggett Group, which manufactures Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid brand cigarettes.
Cornell has since released a statement in response to the original New York Times article that exposed what many claim to have been an illegitimate donation.
The statement reads: “We recognize, due to the extreme concern about tobacco companies’ attempts to misuse research to the detriment of public health that broader and continuing disclosures could and should have been made. But Weill Cornell strongly rejects the thesis of The New York Times article that any omission was deliberate.”
WCMC also asserted that it was not the only school to accept tobacco donations. The statement said that many schools establish foundations to accept tobacco donations for unrestricted research.