Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Politician, Medical School Dean Convicted in Connection with Bribery and Fraud at UMDNJ

We have frequently discussed the plight of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), the largest health care university in the US. Facing indictment for federal crimes, the university operated under a deferred prosecution agreement and the supervision of a federal monitor from 2005 to 2007. We most recently blogged about UMDNJ here, and see links backward to previous posts from here.

As reported by the Newark Star-Ledger, there have just been criminal convictions in two cases related to the scandals at UMDNJ:

Former senator Wayne R. Bryant was found guilty yesterday of selling his office as one of New Jersey's most influential lawmakers for a medical school job that padded his pension, in a case that also put on trial the secret political horse-trading of the state budget process.

A federal jury in Trenton convicted Bryant of bribery for soliciting a job at the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Camden County and using his influence to help the school acquire $10.5 million in state grants between 2003 and 2006.

The jury also found Bryant, 61, of Lawnside, guilty of 11 counts of mail and wire fraud stemming from the scheme to land the $35,000-a-year 'low-work' job at the school, run by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Prosecutors said Bryant used the mail to apply for the job, get paid, and file a financial disclosure form for 2003 that omitted his UMDNJ job -- all in an effort to defraud the state Division of Pensions and Benefits.

'The brazen arrogance of Wayne Bryant -- to believe that he was completely beyond the reach of the law, to extort state institutions for personal profit in return for the funding of good and worthwhile programs that serve the poor, the disadvantaged and the needy of our state -- is simply the most disgusting conduct I've seen by a public official in my seven years as U.S. attorney,' [US Attorney Christopher J] Christie said.

The jurors, who deliberated 14 hours over three days, also convicted the medical school's former dean R. Michael Gallagher, formerly of Haddonfield, of bribery for hiring Bryant to perform what prosecutors say was a phony community relations job. Gallagher also was found guilty on five of the six mail and wire fraud charges involved with creating the job.

The ex-senator and the ex-dean each face more than 15 years in prison when they are sentenced March 20, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The relationship between Bryant and UMDNJ was perhaps made a bit more clear by the Philadelphia Inquirer's version of the story:

In late 2002, Bryant solicited a job from Stuart Cook, then president of the public University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). Prosecutors termed it a 'shakedown.'

Gallagher, the former dean of the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, then rigged a hiring process to give Bryant a job. The school is one of UMDNJ's campuses.

During the years of his employment, from 2003 to 2006, Bryant steered $10.5 million to the osteopathic school, and lobbied on its behalf in other matters.

Prosecutors noted that he had done nothing to help the school before going on its payroll.

Bryant was paid a $35,000 salary and given a $5,000 bonus one year. This, prosecutors said, despite the fact that he showed up on campus just one morning a week and spent most of his time there reading the newspaper and talking on the phone.

These were not the first findings of guilt in the UMDNJ case. Earlier this year, as we noted here, two UMDNJ cardiologists pleaded guilty of embezzlement in a scheme in which they were paid for academic work they did not do in exchange for referring patients to UMDNJ. However, by that time, nobody in a leadership position in UMDNJ had been charged, much less convicted of a crime in connection with the scandal. Now at least one former UMDNJ official has been convicted.

In a continued and striking demonstration of the anechoic effect, the UMDNJ case up to now has never graced the pages of any medical, health care research, or health care policy journal. I wonder whether the convictions of a prominent politician and a former osteopathic school dean will be enough to get this dramatic and sordid case noticed in the medical and health care literature. One would think that a large health care university forced to operate under a federal deferred prosecution agreement, under the supervision of a federal monitor, would have sufficient implications about problems in the leadership and governance of health care organizations to gain widespread attention.

However, as long as such cases are reported as merely regional aberrations, physicians, other health care professionals and patients will probably continue to believe that the ethical challenges they may witness are merely local misfortunes. Until we all recognize that the problems are widespread, if not global, we will not be moved to action. And maybe that is why there is such pressure not to discuss the wider implications of local problems, or to discuss how similar all the local problems are.

For discussion of many other cases of poor leadership and governance of health care organizations, please peruse the archives of Health Care Renewal.


Anonymous said...

D.O. doctors??...lmao...they are phony docs...just like chiropractors...they are like witch doctors...phony sceience...

Dr. D.O. said...

Just like an arrogant immature ignorant individual to post an unwarranted comment anonymously