Friday, January 6, 2006

Rhode Island Hospital and Three Executives Charged in Corruption Prosecution

Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island, and thee executives were charged in a 38-count indictment with secretly paying state Senator John Celona $260,000 in order to advance the medical center's interests in the state legislature.  The individual defendants are Robert Urciuoli, the chief executive of the medical center (currently on leave), Frances Driscoll, a former senior vice president for public relations, and Peter Sangermano, Jr., president of an assisted-living facility called the Village at Elmhurst that is affiliated with Roger Williams. A press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Rhode Island (here) states:

[T]he conspirators devised a ruse to have Roger Williams Medical Center pay Celona as a consultant for the Village at Elmhurst so Roger Williams could use him to influence legislation. Celona’s ostensible duties were to trumpet services available to seniors at the Villages at Elmhurst but, according to the indictment, he was actually being paid by Roger Williams Medical Center and his job was to advance its agenda in the General Assembly.  The indictment alleges that, between 1998 and 2004, Roger Williams paid Celona approximately $260,000 in consultant fees and, in return, Celona took steps to kill bills deemed harmful to Roger Williams and to advance legislation that Urciuoli and Driscoll considered favorable. Celona allegedly stifled bills in committees and pressured other legislators to back off bills that ran counter to Roger Williams’ agenda.

Among the evidence recounted in the indictment is an allegation that "at Urciuoli’s direction, Celona pressured medical insurance companies to increase their reimbursements to Roger Williams for health care services.  After a meeting with an insurance company executive in 2001, Celona allegedly sent an e-mail message to Urciuoli stating, 'I hope I didn’t lay it on... too much yesterday.' Urciuoli allegedly responded that the insurance official 'deserved to get cranked around.' "

This indictment of a corporation, particularly a non-profit, on corruption charges is uncommon.  While organizations can be involved in bribery and the like, such as the Sun-Diamond agricultural cooperative that was prosecuted for giving unlawful gratuities to then-Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy in the early 1990s, the payments are usually unauthorized and, by their very nature, kept secret from the company.   Roger Williams, which was founded in 1878, issued a statement that it intended to fight the charges.

Celona entered a guilty plea in August 2005 to three counts of mail fraud/right of honest services, and has cooperated in the investigation.  An AP story (here) notes that in addition to accepting payments from Roger Williams, Celona also admitted to taking money from CVS and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to protect their interests in the state legislature.  Neither company nor any of their employees have been charged with a crime. (ph)


UPDATE: A copy of the indictment is available below, courtesy of a Rhode Island reader.

Download roger_williams_medical_center_indictment1.pdf

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