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Conviction upheld for Arizona woman who faked cancer to get abortion

Posted at 5:48 AM, Mar 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-18 16:30:48-04

PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a woman who was found guilty on fraud and other charges for faking a uterine cancer diagnosis to get the state to pay for her late-term abortion.

The court on Monday rejected Chalice Renee Zeitner's argument that a lower-court judge had breached her physician-patient privilege by letting prosecutors use her medical records at trial.

Laws that require the disclosure of confidential patient information to assist in Medicaid fraud investigations create an exception to the physician-patient privilege, the state Supreme Court concluded.

Zeitner, 33, was accused of presenting falsified medical records in 2010 to support her claim that she had cancer and telling an obstetrician that her pregnancy put her life in danger. Her abortion occurred 22 weeks into her pregnancy.

The Arizona health care program in which Zeitner was enrolled covers the cost of abortions in limited circumstances, such as when a mother's life is endangered.

Investigators say the scheme was discovered a year after the April 2010 abortion when a doctor who performed a C-section during Zeitner's subsequent pregnancy found no signs of cancer.

Another doctor who was listed on medical records as having treated Zeitner for cancer later said he never treated her.

Zeitner's lawyer had told jurors at trial that his client genuinely believed she had cancer and didn't set out to defraud anyone.

The state Supreme Court concluded it couldn't see how the Arizona Attorney General, which has a unit devoted to Medicaid fraud, can prosecute beneficiary fraud without having access to relevant communications between patients and doctors.

"It is the very information contained within these communications that forms the foundation of the fraud charges," the Supreme Court wrote.

In all, Zeitner is serving a 28-year prison sentence for convictions in three separate cases.

She received 10 years in the abortion case, more than two years for a 2016 drunken driving conviction and nearly 16 years for convictions for defrauding a charity for military veterans and its leader in 2012.

In the case involving the charities, Zeitner was accused of persuading one charity to buy $7,700 worth of tickets for a gala with the promise of returning the money and providing a portion of the event's proceeds. But investigators say Zeitner canceled the event and instead spent the money on personal expenses.