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Ex-UCLA Worker Pleads Guilty To Selling Celebrity Medical Records

SHAYA TAYEFE MOHAJER | December 2, 2008 07:25 AM EST | AP

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LOS ANGELES — A former employee of UCLA Medical Center pleaded guilty Monday to selling information from the medical records of celebrities and high-profile patients, including Britney Spears and Farrah Fawcett, to the National Enquirer.

Lawanda Jackson, 49, spoke quietly as she entered her plea to the felony charge of violating federal medical privacy law for commercial purposes in U.S. District Court.

She faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for May.

Jackson and her attorney, Angel Navarro, declined to comment after the hearing.

Jackson worked as an administrative specialist at the UCLA hospitals for 32 years and in recent years began using her supervisor's password to access medical records inappropriately, authorities said.

The tabloid deposited checks totaling at least $4,600 into her husband's checking account beginning in 2006, prosecutors said. Jackson resigned in July 2007 before she could be fired.

Jackson and state officials have disclosed that records for Spears, Fawcett and California first lady Maria Shriver were among those breached.

Fawcett's attorney, Kim Swartz, said in April that the star's cancer diagnosis and details of her treatment showed up in the National Enquirer after an employee at the hospital accessed her medical records.

U.S. attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said that no charges have been filed against the Enquirer or any other publications, but that the role of the media is part of the investigation into the privacy breaches.

"Certainly there is possible culpability at media outlets if we can determine that they were knowingly paying for the illegal access of celebrity files," Mrozek said.

A lawyer for the Enquirer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The Los Angeles Times first reported that UCLA employees pried into the medical records of prominent patients in April, resulting in six state public health investigation reports.

Those reports found that a total of 1,041 patients had their records inappropriately accessed at UCLA medical facilities since 2003, and that 165 hospital employees _ from doctors to orderlies _ were disciplined through firings, suspensions and warnings.

UCLA Health Systems issued a brief statement indicating the hospitals would continue to cooperate with authorities in patient privacy investigations but declined to comment on the Jackson case.

Anthony Montero, a special assistant to the U.S. attorney, said another former UCLA Health Systems employee, Huping Zhou, was indicted Nov. 17 on suspicion of inappropriately accessing 71 celebrity medical records but is not accused of selling any information.

Zhou is scheduled for arraignment this month. A man who identified himself over the telphone as Huping Zhou declined to talk to The Associated Press.

Filed by Katherine Thomson  |  Report Corrections