Phoebe Putney critics face criminal charges - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe Putney critics face criminal charges

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December 14, 2005

Albany- Two of Phoebe Putney Hospital's most outspoken critics face serious criminal charges for sending out faxes critical of the hospital.

Dr. John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg are named in an eight count indictment handed down Wednesday afternoon. They're charged with aggravated assault, burglary, and six counts of harassment by fax. It started with the Phoebe Factoids, a series of newsletters faxed to various businesses claiming to unveil secrets about Phoebe's finances and business practices.

"This is a sad day in Dougherty County Justice system and it's also a very poor example for the rest of the country to see that in Albany, Georgia a man does not have a right to speak under the first amendment," said Ralph Scoccimaro, Attorney.

Dr. John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg wrote the factoids. Phoebe filed, then later dropped, a libel suit against Rehberg who has a pending counterclaim. Wednesday's indictment claims those faxes were harassing. Prosecutors also claim Rehberg and Bagnato sent investigator Jim Bowman to the home of Dr. James Hotz who felt threatened when Bowman came inside uninvited. That indictment resulted in the aggravated assault and burglary charges against Bagnato, Rehberg, and Bowman.

"He spoke the truth about them and their friend the District Attorney decided to do this," said Scoccimaro.

District Attorney Ken Hodges recused himself from the case after criticism that he turned over investigative records to Phoebe, but his lead investigator's information was used by a special prosecutor to get the indictments.

"He (the lead investigator) issued or had cause to be issued certain grand jury subpoenas for certain phone numbers to private citizens and he admitted that to me, he admitted that to me and now it's resulted in this sad prosecution," said Scoccimaro.

Attorneys for Bagnato and Rehberg say they're anxious to have the case tried because they believe the charges are a sham.

"Now we have local government in the form of a public corporation attacking an individual for speaking the truth, so I welcome the challenge this presents," said Scoccimaro.

Phoebe officials would not comment Wednesday. District attorney Ken Hodges office also declined to make a statement.

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