Former South St. Paul basketball coach dies by suicide, two days before sentencing on federal fraud case – Twin Cities | #phishing | #scams


Former South St. Paul boys basketball coach Matthew McCollister died by suicide on Monday, two days before he was to be sentenced for fraud in federal court.

Matthew McCollister (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

McCollister, 40, leaves behind his wife and three young children.

He pleaded guilty in January for his role in a scheme to defraud car insurance companies with false medical claims while working as a personal injury attorney.

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy said officers were called around 3 p.m. Monday for a possible suicide in the 3600 block of Wesley Court and found McCollister dead in his home.

McCollister was charged in December in U.S. District Court with felony conspiracy to commit health care fraud from 2016 to 2017. He was charged by felony information, a process by which a defendant agrees to waive a grand jury indictment and instead plead guilty.

McCollister resigned from the team and his student support assistant job at South St. Paul High School on Jan. 12, the day the Pioneer Press first reported the accusations and just hours before he was scheduled to plead guilty at the federal courthouse in St. Paul. That hearing was postponed after his attorney fell ill.

McCollister entered his plea on Jan. 19. Sentencing guidelines called for 10 to 16 months in prison. McCollister remained free on his own recognizance pending his sentencing, which was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright.

“We ask that you give his family time and space to grieve,” his attorney, Ryan Pacyga, said in a statement Tuesday. “There will not be a sentencing hearing tomorrow. I have no further comments.”

McCollister had been South St. Paul High School’s head basketball coach since November 2019, and was credited with leading a turnaround of a once-struggling program. Prior to joining South St. Paul, McCollister had been a head coach at Breck, St. Croix Preparatory Academy and Brooklyn Center.

FRAUD SCHEME

McCollister was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 2009. Starting around 2015, McCollister began his own law practice that focused primarily on pursuing personal injury claims on behalf of people who had been in car accidents.

About a year later, a chiropractor introduced McCollister to a confidential informant who was working with the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau and posing as a “runner,” according to federal prosecutors. A runner is someone who gets paid to recruit people who supposedly were injured in car crashes and then receive chiropractic treatment paid for by auto insurance companies.

McCollister met with the runner at the Red Cow restaurant in St. Paul on March 1, 2016, and asked the individual to find people who supposedly were injured, prosecutors said. McCollister’s idea was to then have them go to chiropractors for care and that he would represent them in bringing claims against auto insurance companies for the purported injuries, according to the plea agreement. McCollister offered to pay the runner $300 or more for each person recruited.

Prosecutors allege McCollister then directed one of the two undercover patients to be “treated” by chiropractor Huy Nguyen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in the conspiracy.

In December 2015, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Nguyen’s chiropractic clinic, Healthcare Chiropractic, in Brooklyn Park, where McCollister maintained an informal office and spent considerable time, according to U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin.

“Huy Nguyen’s notoriousness could not have escaped Mr. McCollister’s attention,” MacLaughlin wrote in an April 26 memorandum that argued for a 16-month sentence for McCollister.

McCollister’s “brazen use of a known crooked chiropractor” continued throughout 2016 and into 2017, the memo read. On March 16, 2016, the undercover runner had lunch with McCollister, Nguyen and another now-convicted conspirator/MRI specialist named Quincy Chettupally at Fogo de Chao in downtown Minneapolis. The lunch was video recorded without McCollister’s knowledge and the conspirators openly discussed the scheme, according to prosecutors.

A grand jury in December 2016 indicted Nguyen in the conspiracy to which McCollister would later plead guilty. In August 2017, the grand jury added Chettupally to the conspiracy count.

Despite the indictments, McCollister sent two letters to Liberty Mutual Insurance, demanding a $25,000 bodily injury settlement for two separate bogus claims, prosecutors say.

DISBARRED

McCollister was the second Minnesota attorney charged and convicted through what was dubbed “Operation Back Cracker,” an effort by the state Commerce Fraud Bureau, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to combat personal injury protection fraud cases.

In November 2020, Minnetonka attorney William Sutor was sentenced to 16 months in prison after being convicted of the same offense as McCollister.

Pacyga, McCollister’s attorney, planned to argue for a five-month prison sentence followed by home confinement or community supervision.

McCollister “promptly accepted responsibility” by forgoing an indictment, Pacyga noted in his April 25 sentencing memorandum. “McCollister has lost not one, but two careers,” he added.

McCollister in February was disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court for professional misconduct unrelated to the federal charge. He had admitted to intentionally misappropriating more than $16,300 in client funds from his trust account between July 2020 and December 2020.

“Besides the father and husband that he has been and continues to be, he continues to work on himself with therapy and stays sober, even in the face of a federal criminal sentencing and the loss of both his law and coaching careers,” Pacyga wrote in his memo.

When McCollister left the team, South St. Paul was 14-0 and among the top-ranked teams in Class 3A. Assistant coach Darren Edwards took over as head coach and the team went on to win 14 straight games before falling to DeLaSalle 69-67 in the Section 3 final. It was South St. Paul’s second straight loss in the section final.

Prior to resigning, McCollister was a full-time student support assistant at the high school. In that role, he worked with student-support specialists who focus on student behavior.

To get help for thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.



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