ATLANTA — A Georgia chiropractor has pleaded guilty to letting thousands of truckers get on the road after incomplete medical exams.
Six months ago, prosecutors charged Dr. Anthony Lefteris with falsifying documents filed with a federal agency. The septuagenarian chiropractor, certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation to test truckers’ health to be eligible to drive, had issued more than 6,500 certificates of good health since 2014, despite, for example, not taking required urine samples.
This past Monday, Lefteris appeared with his lawyers at the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta to enter his guilty plea. Prosecutors have recommended the chiropractor serve a sentence of 10 months in community confinement, perform 1,600 hours of community service, and pay a fine; a judge, though, has the potential to issue a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison with a fine as high as $500,000. (Lefteris originally faced up to 75 years in prison if convicted on all eight counts.)
Truckers are required to pass a DOT medical exam to get their commercial driver’s license. It’s part of a series of newer DOT safety measures that have reduced U.S. highway fatalities by roughly 20 percent since 2005. These exams ensure drivers with hearing or vision issues, concerning diabetes or high blood pressure, or drug abuse issues won’t be allowed behind the wheel of a big rig.
John Horn, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, declined comment through a spokesman prior to sentencing. Earlier this year, Horn told STAT “there’s no reason for any driver in perfect health to go this route. By allowing truckers with potentially poor health on the road, Lefteris was “taking the underlying risk of a danger on the road, and magnifying it, [and] putting the patient or the public’s life at risk.”
Truckers from 43 different states rolled into the 24-hour Petro Stopping Center on Atlanta’s west side to see Lefteris, known by many of his patients as “Dr. Tony,” even though the DOT has a registry of over 50,000 certified medical examiners nationwide. Lefteris’s office was at the massive truck stop off Interstate 285.
The investigation first began in March 2015 after a driver who received an incomplete exam yet got his medical certificate from Lefteris filed an anonymous tip to Georgia Department of Public Safety compliance officers. In September 2016, two undercover officers who visited the truck stop failed to receive complete exams. Nevertheless, they got medical certificates in less than 10 minutes.
Two months later, DOT agents sat outside Lefteris’s office to find truckers leaving with medical exams without leaving behind evidence of a mandatory urine test. Lefteris proceeded to tell the agents he’d just taken out the trash; however, the agents had already checked the dumpster before confronting him. Lefteris was taken into custody three weeks later.
Lefteris is now at least the third medical professional – there’s also a Missouri chiropractor who falsified certificates and a New York internist who allowed interns to sign his forms — who pleaded guilty to criminal charges over the past year related to truck drivers and DOT certificates. Prior to his arrest, Lefteris issued an average of 360 certificates a month. The average federally certified examiner issues 14 a month.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the DOT agency responsible for trucking regulations, has removed Lefteris’s name from its registry of medical examiners. It also ordered truckers examined by Lefteris to retake exams to keep their licenses.
But Lefteris’s chiropractic license, renewed the month before his arrest, is still active, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s licensing database. The state’s chiropractic examiner board has not taken any disciplinary actions against Lefteris.
Lefteris and his attorney, Kristen Novay, did not respond to STAT’s requests for comment. Sentencing has been scheduled for Aug. 28.