More than 900 doctors nationwide owe the federal government millions of dollars in unpaid student loans. The feds have worked to seize the money and even gone to federal court over it. 2NEWS Investigator Marla Carter found two of the doctors working right here in the Sooner state.
TULSA - A 2NEWS investigation took us to a chiropractor's office in Oklahoma City, to a doctor that owes the feds enough money to buy a house with.
He's not the only Oklahoma doctor who owes thousands in unpaid student loans
As part of the investigation, we teamed up with our national Scripps investigative unit and found 930 doctors nationwide owe $116 million in defaulted federal loans including penalties, interest and fees.
It's all part of the Health Education Assistance Loan (HEAL) program.
HEAL gave loans to grad students to study certain health related fields such as: osteopathy, dentistry, veterinary medicine, optometry, podiatry, public health, pharmacy, chiropractic, health administration or clinical psychology. The program ended in 2004.
Since then, the U.S. Department of Justice has seized tax refunds, unemployment checks, it even claimed judgments against the doctors in federal court, but millions remain outstanding.
We searched the data and found 13 names tied to Oklahoma. One of them is Doctor James Bugg. He drove up to his chiropractic office in a hummer.
RELATED LINK: See the Defaulted Borrowers list at http://1.usa.gov/12GMFj1
Records show Bugg owes the feds $227,000, including penalties, interest and fees. Court records show his initial judgment was $119,000.
The 2NEWS Investigators asked Dr. Bugg if he plans to pay back the federal loans. At first he declined to comment. Later, he called us saying he ran into some tough times and got behind on his bills. He says he's working to pay back his loans, but there is no settlement with the Department of Justice to clear his name.
That's not all we discovered.
The 2NEWS Investigators found one woman who defaulted on her college loans, working at a university. She teaches at the University of Oklahoma.
Right in the heart of campus is Doctor Coleman's office. She received a degree in podiatry, but records show she is not listed as a registered podiatrist in the state. She is now an adjunct professor teaching African American studies.
Records show she owes $45,000 to the federal government, including penalties, interest and fees.
Taxpayer money owed by a person, who's salary is paid for by tax dollars.
We also asked Dr. Coleman if she plans on paying back the money she owes. She declined an interview.
We asked the University of Oklahoma for comment. Administrators would not comment on camera, but sent us this statement.
"...The University is unaware of any prohibition on employing individuals who might owe a debt to the federal government although OU does adhere to Oklahoma's restrictions on the University employing individuals who owe a state debt."
That is the law, state employees must pay back their state debt, but federal debt isn't mentioned.
The University of Oklahoma received more than $88 million last fiscal year from the federal government for grants, research and programs, all while one of it's employees owed them money. We took what we uncovered to a state lawmaker, who then contacted the University.
"It's my understanding that this is a part-time employee and an isolated incident, that being said of course we want our state employees to comply with the law," said Senator Sean Burrage, (D)-Claremore.
A law, the feds claim they're working to hold people accountable for, as they try to get back the millions they're owed.
Senator Burrage said he'll look into a requirement concerning state employee paying back federal money that's owed.
RELATED LINK FOR MOBILE READERS - For an interactive map of all 930 doctors, their specialty, their city and the amount of money each owes, as well as a timeline of the HEAL program go here, http://bit.ly/UbUqtG.
More on Deadbeat Doctors
More than 900 medical professionals nationwide remain in default, owing the government more than $116 million for loans many stopped repaying more than 18 years ago.
There's growing concern that bright but middle- or lower-class students may not be willing to take on such a burden. At the same time, the country is estimated to need an additional 20,000 to 60,000 doctors over the next two decades.
EDITORIAL | The Health Education Assistance Loan program illustrates a truism about federal loan programs: Before handing out any money, establish an effective mechanism for getting it back.
INSIDE | Interactive map that lists the doctors, their specialty, their city and the amount they owe. Interactive timeline of the HEAL program that loaned money to medical students for their education.