Your Name is Mud(d)

by Matt Kochanski

Elvis Costello sang, “History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats.” That lyric went through my mind as I took advantage of a beautiful Sunday to celebrate the 159th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by following the trail of John Wilkes Booth from Ford’s Theater to what’s left of the Garret farm in Virginia where he was caught and killed.  One stop between was to the house of Dr. Samual Mudd who (in)famously set the broken leg of the assassin and provided him a place to stay and food to eat for two days.

Mudd was convicted of Aiding and Abetting Booth and was sentenced to life in prison (the jury failing by one vote to send him to the gallows. After close to 4 years, Mudd was pardoned – largely due to his work as a prisoner helping the guards and his fellow prisoners survive a Yellow Fever epidemic. For the 150 years since then, the Mudd family has worked tirelessly to clear Dr. Mudd’s name, saying the evidence against him was weak and would not have been enough to convict him at a fair trial.  Despite these efforts, and despite many weaknesses in the evidence, the pardon and the heroic efforts he made while a prisoner, the Mudd name is still linked solely to the short period in his life when he interacted with Booth.

I bring this up not to crow about a wonderful weekend outing but to point out that the story of Dr. Mudd should be seen as a cautionary tale. It illustrates and highlights the influence that an investigation can have on the life of an individual and the power that the investigator and the judicial system has on the people that come under scrutiny. Mudd being a physician adds another element of relevance to our work in this industry.

Knowing this influence and understanding this power should lead to three investigative principles that can help in making sure that your impact on someone is appropriate and the power of the system is used to reach a justified and defensible resolution.


  • Don’t rush to judgment. Make sure the initiation of any investigation is justified. Investigators must practice due diligence in understanding the data, do the research necessary to thoroughly understand the policies, regulations and law at issue and then apply that understanding to the patterns found in the claims data. And don’t just rely on that – take the other investigative steps (interviews, medical reviews, on-sites) to get as much information about the provider’s practice and the actual services/supplies being provided. Go where the facts point you and allow those facts to dictate how the investigation progresses.


  • Let the punishment fit the crime. This is a natural follow-on to the first principle. At your disposal is a continuum of administrative, civil and criminal avenues to resolve your investigations. The investigative actions you take, and the avenue chosen to resolve the issues found must be just and based on the facts.


  • Don’t leave them hanging. An investigation against a provider is akin to Damocles’ sword hanging over the head of the provider. The longer they take, the bigger the impact and, frankly, the weaker the case. Have case plans that progress the case as efficiently as possible – it will help you as the investigator and mitigate unnecessary impact on the life of the provider.

No one really knows the full story of Dr. Mudd’s participation in the plot to kidnap/kill President Lincoln. And that is the problem. Despite the lack of facts, Mudd was one juror’s vote from the death penalty and he and his descendants have spent 159 years trying to cleanse his legacy. Our job as investigators is to not repeat this – we need to remove the doubt. If we are going to make somebody’s name “Mudd” we need to be sure we are right.