ATLANTA - Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker announced today that on Saturday, May 15, 1999, Marilois Laster of Tifton, Georgia, entered a plea of guilty to a felony charge of Medicaid fraud.

Laster, formerly a dentist, was on trial on Medicaid fraud charges in the Superior Court of DeKalb County. A jury was selected in the case on Monday, May 10, and the trial began on Tuesday, May 11.

Laster was charged with carrying out a fraudulent scheme of submitting false Medicaid claims during a 25-month time period from January 1, 1993, through January 31, 1995. The claims were submitted for services purportedly provided to patients in Laster's Tifton, Georgia, dental offices.

At the time the plea was entered, the prosecution was nearing completion of the presentation of the state's case against Laster. The prosecution had presented the testimony of former employees of Laster, patients formerly treated by Laster, and dental consultants who had examined approximately 61 of Laster's former patients. The prosecution contended that Laster submitted approximately 200 false claims in connection with the patients examined by the state's dental consultants.

The state's investigation began shortly after a child, Charity Faith Mitchell, died in Laster's office in January of 1995. The Dental Board conducted an inquiry concerning that death. Mike Mitcham, the investigator for the Dental Board, found evidence suggesting potential Medicaid fraud, and referred that aspect of the case to the Georgia Department of Medical Assistance, which administers the Georgia Medicaid Program.

The case was tried in DeKalb County because Medicaid claims are processed in DeKalb County and Medicaid checks are issued from DeKalb County. The case was originally indicted in Tift County but the case was reindicted in DeKalb County when Laster's defense attorneys expressed a desire to have the case moved to a different venue.

Laster had stoutly maintained her innocence up until she entered her guilty plea. As part of the process of entering the guilty plea, Laster was placed under oath and asked the question: "Are you in fact guilty?" Laster answered: "Yes."

DeKalb Superior Court Judge Robert P. Mallis sentenced Laster to one year imprisonment followed by nine years on probation. The one year imprisonment will be suspended upon Laster's successful completion of a detention center program, which varies in length from 90 to 120 days. Laster was ordered to pay $60,000.00 in restitution to the Georgia Medicaid Program, a fine of $5,000.00, and investigative costs of $3,500.00. Laster was taken into custody immediately following her guilty plea and will be incarcerated in the DeKalb County Jail until she enters the detention center program. As one of the conditions of her probation, Laster agreed not to attempt to have her dental license reinstated during the full period of her sentence.

The case was prosecuted by members of Attorney General Baker's staff who are assigned to the State Health Care Fraud Control Unit. Attorney General Baker has made the investigation and prosecution of cases of Medicaid fraud one of his highest priorities.