Phoebe Putney critics arrested - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe Putney critics arrested

December 15, 2005

Albany - The men who blew the whistle on Phoebe Putney Hospital's big spending were arrested and charged with crimes today.

Dr. John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg were photographed, fingerprinted and released on bond.

They were indicted yesterday for sending out faxes, known as Phoebe Factoids.

The faxes contained information on Phoebe's Putney Hospital executive's salaries, political connections and financial holdings.

The disclosures infuriated Phoebe, and with help from Dougherty D.A. Ken Hodges, they found out who wrote the faxes.

Now, to the surprise of many, the Factoid authors are charged with crimes.

Charles Rehberg's attorney, Ralph Scoccimaro, says "We believe Phoebe has a huge hand to play in this particular prosecution.  My client basically sent out a newsletter, apprising this community of what was going on in this hospital. That's all he did, he spoke the truth."

In a move that some lawyers say is prosecutorial misconduct, D.A. Ken Hodges gave Phoebe Putney Hospital his office's files and that aided Phoebe Putney in finding out who wrote the faxes.  Hodges then stepped aside.

But Scoccimaro says Hodges is behind the charges.

"Mr. Hodges cannot say that he has divorced himself from this case, or washed his hands of this case such as Pontius Pilate, by giving it to another District Attorney, his friend up in Houston County," says Scoccimaro.

Hodges says, "In May I wrote a letter to the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor, saying there were allegations about conflicts of interest appearances."

Those conflict of interest allegations arose because Hodges gave Phoebe his files,  the hospital gave Hodges' wife a job and Joel Wernick contributed to Hodges' political campaign.  

Scoccimaro says, "Mr. Hodges was the driving force behind this. We will prove that in the coming days.  Mr. Hodges will be a witness in this case."

Scoccimaro says it's nothing more than Phoebe Putney and Hodges silencing their critics.

Charles Rehberg says, "This is a day, an event, that I think should have never taken place.  I think it's par for the course in what's been happening over the last two years in this battle."

Phoebe C.E.O. Joel Wernick refuses to comment on the arrests of his critics.

This indictment comes just seven days after Dr. Bagnato blew the whistle on Phoebe again.  Last Thursday, he criticized them because the hospital executives chartered a private jet to take them to the Cayman Islands December 6th rather than traveling on more economical commercial airlines.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Dr. Bagnato said, "If speaking out against graft, greed and corruption is now a crime in this great country of ours, we are all in big trouble."