American teacher stuck in Singapore due to COVID-19 pandemic forged insurance letter to have surgery
SINGAPORE: An American teacher who was unable to travel home for regular medical treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic forged an insurance letter and deceived a hospital into performing a surgical procedure worth about S$20,000 on him.
Vericker Michael Gunderson, 43, was sentenced to a year's jail on Wednesday (Dec 7). He pleaded guilty to three charges of cheating and forgery. A fourth charge was considered in sentencing.
According to Vericker's lawyer John Koh of Populus Law, Vericker was a special needs teacher based in Singapore, teaching in various international schools.
He held an Employment Pass and worked in Singapore for about five years before the offences.
In 2006, Vericker was in an accident that fractured his vertebrae and fused his spine together. He went for a major surgery but suffered chronic back pain since as his spine has been in a state of decay, and he suffers from degenerative conditions.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Vericker would travel to the United States on a regular basis to receive medical treatment and medication from his doctors.
However, travel restrictions meant that he could no longer do so during the pandemic, said the defence lawyer.
In December 2020, Vericker sought admission to Mount Alvernia Hospital for day surgery, court documents stated.
He told an administrator that he would be providing a Letter of Guarantee from his insurance company, AXA Insurance. He also gave his credit card details. Because of this, Mount Alvernia did not collect a deposit from Vericker.
While waiting for the surgery to begin, Vericker forged an AXA Letter of Guarantee using his mobile phone. He attached the AXA logo from Google images on top of the letter and typed that AXA would guarantee payment for medical services rendered in the amount of up to S$30,000.
He also wrote that Vericker would not be responsible for any payment upon discharge from the hospital. He appended a signature purportedly belonging to a representative of AXA at the bottom.
The surgery was performed on Vericker and he was discharged. He gave a copy of the forged letter to the hospital staff and left.
Mount Alvernia later submitted the medical bills of S$20,892.72 to AXA, along with the forged letter. AXA told the hospital that the letter was forged.
The hospital tried debiting Vericker's credit card, but the transaction was declined. Emails to Vericker for payment went unheeded.
The hospital lodged a police report in January 2021.
During investigations, Vericker admitted forging the letter so he could proceed with the surgery.
However, the police probe found that Vericker could continue with his daily activities with some degree of low back pain even if the surgery had not been performed.
The procedure could also have been done at any other hospital with pain management specialists who could perform the surgery.
Vericker was released on police bail, but committed other offences for cash. He cheated two victims of S$200 and S$700 respectively for fake Marina Bay Sands hotel staycations.
The prosecution asked for 13 to 16 months' jail. He said no mitigating weight ought to be accorded to the fact that Vericker had committed the forgery offence to procure medical treatment.
The treatment obtained was an elective surgery, and there was no reason why he had to obtain it at a private hospital instead of a public one, he said.
Defence lawyer John Koh asked for no more than nine months' jail. He said his client was deeply remorseful and realised he had made a mistake.
He said the offences were committed not out of greed, but "desperation to escape the crippling chronic pain he was suffering from".
He said he was alone and penniless in a foreign land and wishes to return to his home country and earn an honest living there.
Vericker has been unemployed since March 2021 but stayed in Singapore on a special pass to facilitate investigations. He has since exhausted almost all his savings and has resorted to selling his personal belongings to support himself, said Mr Koh.
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