FAYETTEVILLE -- The former veterans hospital pathologist charged with involuntary manslaughter in three patient deaths is expected to change his plea Thursday, court records show.
Robert Morris Levy, 53, of Fayetteville pleaded not guilty to charges he missed the diagnoses with fatal results in three cases while working impaired. The drug involved intoxicants like alcohol but isn't traceable by breath, blood or urine tests for alcohol. He was indicted Aug. 16.
Allegations of Levy's substance abuse arose from his March 1, 2018, arrest for driving while intoxicated. The incident sparked a yearlong review of his cases since he started work at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in 2005.
The DWI charge was later dismissed because police tests also found no alcohol. Still, the VA suspended Levy after his arrest. The system fired him the next month during the investigation that discovered drug purchases and later led to the indictment.
Pathologists from other hospitals found 30 missed diagnoses posing serious health risks to patients, according to results released May 31, 2019, by the health care system. The fatal missed diagnoses are cited in the indictment. Overall, pathologists found 3,029 errors out of 33,902 cases, but most patients didn't suffer long-term ill effects, according to the review. Levy's job paid $225,000 a year, according to his indictment.
Notice that his scheduled Sept. 8 jury trial in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville is canceled and a change-of-plea hearing is set appeared on the court's calendar Monday. The hearing is to take place by video conference at 2:30 p.m. Thursday with U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks presiding.
Calls to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas and Levy's defense attorney weren't returned Monday afternoon. The Ozarks System deferred all comment to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Levy worked while impaired despite being monitored by blood and urine tests for alcohol abuse, a federal indictment says. He also was indicted on 12 counts each of wire fraud and mail fraud and four counts of giving false statements to conceal his substance abuse.
Levy was being monitored for alcohol abuse after administrators at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks received a report he was intoxicated while assisting in an ultrasound-guided taking of a sample from a patient's liver. That report was March 22, 2016, according to court records. He wasn't arrested at that time.
A blood test at the time of that 2016 complaint showed Levy's blood alcohol level at more than 0.39. Levy's role at the health care system was to examine test results of tissue samples to determine illnesses, if any.
"For a normal human being, a 0.396 would be comatose level," special agent Kris Raper of the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs testified at the September hearing.
A 2016 review of his work didn't find any missed diagnoses by Levy, according to the Ozark System. The medical center put Levy on leave and through substance abuse treatment after the 2016 test. The center later put him back to work, but required him to provide random blood and urine samples for testing.
Levy then bought a potent, dangerous drug to get intoxicated by a method that wouldn't show up in blood or urine tests, the indictment says. The fraud counts stem from the purchases of the drug with the intent to keep his job while evading the testing. Investigators found Levy bought the drug 12 times online starting June 30, 2017.
The drug Levy used is called "2m-2b," the indictment says. The chemical is so hard to detect the Arkansas Crime Laboratory in Little Rock had to order a new test kit to confirm the drug in a sample of Levy's blood, Raper testified. The agent said Levy's case was the first time the Crime Laboratory had tested for the drug.
Levy passed 42 blood or urine tests, an average of two a month, according to his indictment.
Levy's drug use was discovered after March 1, 2018, after a Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy saw him walking toward his car at the U.S. Post Office on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. The deputy thought Levy was intoxicated and held him until a police officer arrived. The officer arrested Levy for driving while intoxicated because Levy drove to the Post Office and failed a field sobriety test.
The three breathalyzer tests Levy took immediately following his arrest reported an "interfering substance" each time, police records show. The DWI charge was later dismissed after Levy's blood and urine samples taken after the arrest came back clear.
The drug passes through the body so quickly it would require three tests a week to ensure the subject wasn't using the substance, according to bond hearing testimony. The lack of a reliable regular test method for 2m-2b was a factor in deciding against allowing bond, U.S. Magistrate Erin L. Wiedemann, who presided at the bond hearing, said at the time. Levy has remained at the Washington County Detention Center ever since.