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Texas going after CEO, sheriff & doc who targeted whistleblowing nurses

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AP Texas News

Ex-hospital head takes plea in retaliation case
By BETSY BLANEY Associated Press © 2011 The Associated Press
March 21, 2011, 8:16PM

KERMIT, Texas — A former West Texas hospital administrator accused of retaliating against two whistle-blowing nurses accepted a plea deal Monday and could testify in trials for a doctor, sheriff and prosecutor facing similar charges.

Stan Wiley ran Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Kermit when the nurses were unsuccessfully prosecuted after they complained anonymously to the Texas Medical Board in 2009 that Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr. was unethical and risking patients’ health.

Both nurses were fired from the hospital in June 2009 and a month later indicted with misuse of information after they complained anonymously to state regulators about Arafiles’ medical procedures.

Wiley, who fired the nurses, pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of abuse of official capacity. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $2,000. As part of the plea deal, Wiley agreed to cooperate with the prosecution of the three remaining defendants.

Arafiles, Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts and County Attorney Scott Tidwell face retaliation and other charges for pursuing cases against Vickilyn Galle and Anne Mitchell.

The case against Galle was dropped, and Mitchell was exonerated of a felony charge of misuse of official information at a February 2010 trial. Both women were in the courtroom Monday.

During the hearing, Visiting Judge Robert H. Moore s also heard from the other defendants’ attorneys and scheduled Roberts’ trial to start June 6. Roberts and Arafiles declined to comment after the hearing.

Tidwell’s attorney, David Zavoda, told Moore his client should be protected by prosecutorial immunity because he was only doing his job.

Prosecutor David Glicker called that argument "shocking."

"You’re not acting like a prosecutor if you do something unlawful," Glicker told the judge.

Moore rejected Zavoda’s argument.

Investigators contend that Arafiles approached his close friend Roberts, who was also a patient, after the Texas Medical Board contacted the doctor about the complaint. Arafiles asked his friend to help him find out who filed the complaint and Roberts used his authority to get a copy, investigators said.

Arafiles and other officials were then able to determine the identities of those who filed the complaint — names that would have been protected from disclosure if law enforcement officials had not misused their position to obtain confidential information, the Texas attorney general’s office said in a news release Monday. Among the nurses’ complaints in their unsigned April 2009 letter to the medical board were that Arafiles improperly encouraged patients to buy herbal medicines from him and had wanted to use hospital supplies to perform a procedure at a patient’s home. Arafiles, licensed in Texas since 1998, has said the nurses’ letter to the board was intended to harm him personally.

The women sued the county and accepted a $750,000 settlement after they were cleared.

Arafiles faces two counts of misuse of official information and retaliation. Roberts and Tidwell each face two counts of misuse of official information, two counts of retaliation and two counts of official oppression.

The medical board technically suspended Arafiles in February but said he could continue to practice medicine while on probation for four years, if he completed additional training. The board also said Arafiles must be monitored by another physician and submit patient medical and billing records for review. The monitor will report his or her findings back to the board.