Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MetroHealth scandal almost revealed 5 years ago

Sometimes you can tell how good a story is by the debates it sparks on the publication's op-ed and letters pages.

Like today, when the Plain Dealer spars with William Gaskill, chairman of the board of MetroHealth, the county hospital, on page A5.

Here's the story Gaskill's angry about: "Hospital was warned of problems with exec" -- a must-read Sunday article by James McCarty about two contractors who tried to prove that MetroHealth vice-president John Carroll was steering contracts five years ago.

This month, federal prosecutors filed six federal charges against Carroll, including bribery conspiracy. He's accused of taking "travel, gift cards, home improvements and home furnishings valued at approximately $678,000" from co-defendant Nilesh Patel, a vice-president at East West Construction Company. Carroll allegedly took free trips to France, Italy, the Netherlands, Italy Japan and Singapore thanks to Patel. East-West got $51 million in contracts from MetroHealth.

In 2004, Lou Joseph and Jeff Zellers of Brewer-Garrett Corp. "complained to anyone who would listen that Carroll was stacking the deck when putting out bids," McCarty reports. They warned the hospital's then-president, then-chairwoman, and top lawyer about Carroll, complained to the county prosecutor, then sued. A judge declared their allegations showed an "appearance of impropriety" and ordered a contract rebid -- but Carroll fixed the rebidding too, the story says. The hospital did not act until an IRS audit uncovered irregularities last year. Then it fired Carroll.

Gaskill complains that "we had no credible evidence of wrongdoing by Carroll" in 2004. He notes that Zellers himself says in the article, "There were always rumors... but nothing we could substantiate." But the PD buys the ink, so it gets the last word. Its editorial on the same page asks why no one at MetroHealth seems to have bothered to watch Carroll more closely after the lawsuit. Good question.

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