Former UCLA Healthcare Worker Sentenced to Prison for Snooping

An employee who peeked at records, mostly for celebrities, will serve prison time.

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    An employee who peeked at records, mostly for celebrities, will serve prison time.

    A certain appetite for celebrity news seems normal, or at least common. But Federal Authorities say Huping Zhou's appetite was worse than inappropriate. It was against the law.

    Zhou, 47, was sentenced Tuesday to four months in prison for snooping on medical files while working for the UCLA Healthcare System in 2003. He had pleaded guilty in January to four misdemeanor counts of violating the federal privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Zhou now becomes the first person ever sentenced to prison for violating that law.

    Federal officials say Zhou is a licensed cardiothoracic surgeon in China. In 2003, he went to work for UCLA as a researcher with the UCLA School of Medicine. But his tenure was short and stormy. School officials notified him that he would be dismissed in October that year, and that's when federal officials say the snooping began.

    Investigators say Zhou accessed UCLA patient records at least 323 times during one three-week period in 2003, with most incidents involving well-known celebrities.

    In his plea agreement, Zhou admitted his actions, and that he had no legitimate reason for accessing the records. Federal authorities say there's no evidence that he did it for profit. Apparently, he just did it because he could.