Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Kent Alexander: Power Broker (UPDATED)

There is a name that lurks behind the scenes in much of the scandal and corruption associated with Emory University and Grady Hospital and that person's name is Kent Alexander. It should be noted that there is little or no evidence ties Alexander to any wrongdoing on his own part. What is peculiar is how often he finds himself in the middle of scandal at Grady, Emory and beyond.

Kent Alexander first burst on the scene as the son of legendary Atlanta area attorney Miles Alexander. His first brush with fame came in the mysterious case of money laundering by BNL Savings, an Italian government run bank, to the government of Iraq on the eve of the first gulf war. The case is detailed in depth in the book, The Shell Game by Peter Mantius. At the time, Alexander was assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. He was the lead attorney for the U.S. on the case. At the time, King and Spaulding, arguably the most powerful and prestigious law firm in Atlanta, represented BNL. According to The Shell Game, Alexander met with an MI6 agent who told him of obscene amounts of corruption. The agent implicated the entire structure of the bank, and they claimed that for political reasons the intelligence apparatus of Italy, the U.S. and Britain looked the other way. The book claimed that the agent provided documentation of all the assertions.

For whatever reason, according to the book, Alexander left the meeting and decided to pin the entire scandal on the bank manager Christopher Drogoul who was in his twenties at the time. Drogoul was prosecuted and eventually convicted and upon his conviction the entire case was closed. This of course made the clients of King and Spaulding happy as well as the rest of the bank was spared prosecution. This was of course curious because of the sheer size and frequency of the crimes. This case also has some troubling parallels to another case I have referenced, State Senator Charles Walker. More than a decade later, while Alexander was now Emory General Counsel, State Senator Charles Walker was convicted of 127 felonies. He was the only one convicted and that case was also wrapped up after his conviction. Of course, it should be noted again that despite not flipping on anyone Walker received the outrageously light sentence of ten years for 127 felonies.

On the strength of the Drogoul along with other good deeds, Alexander was eventually promoted to U.S. Attorney a couple years later. (for reference this is the equivalent of posts once held by both Rudy Giuliani and Elliot Spitzer in their own districts) In the summer of 1996 Atlanta held the Olympics. The sad and ultimately tragic case of Richard Jewell is well documented and it doesn't need to be repeated. While the media has portrayed his role in the affair in a variety of ways, (he meaning Alexander himself) the facts stand out to me at least. He was the lead prosecutor. Jewell was under suspicion for almost ninety days and everyone agrees that ultimately there was absolutely no solid evidence against him.

About a year later, Alexander resigned from the U.S. Attorney's office. He landed on his feet with a cushy position with King and Spaulding. That would be the same King and Spaulding that was the fortuitous recepient of Alexander's narrow investigation of BNL. King and Spaulding is also the firm on retainer for one Emory University.

Alexander moved over to lead general counsel at Emory University in 2000. The two met each other at a fortuitous time because Grady, the hospital Emory helped run, was under investigation by the National Institute of Health. That investigation ultimately lead nowhere however four people that I have found were silenced with regards to the investigation: Dr. Sam Newcom, Dr. Jim Murtaugh, Dr. Diane Owens, and Dr. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. Dr. Jim Murtaugh's case has recently had some new developments. Here is what State Senator David Shafer was able to recently discover.

Former Grady trustee Bill Loughrey tells me that the settlement with Dr. Murtagh was never approved or even accurately described to Grady’s board of trustees. He says that he was stunned to learn that tax dollars were paid to Dr. Murtagh, conditioned on his silence. He thinks the agreement is invalid and that the judicial process has been misused.

Let me explain for everyone. Dr. Jim Murtaugh settled with Emory University and Grady Hospital right around the time that this investigation was going on. He settled for roughly 1.6 million dollars and each side was under total communication lockdown. In fact, the lockdown was so extreme that even if either side was subpoened the court would need to be notified and there was time available for the subpoena to be quashed. This is of course important because it is very likely that Murtaugh had information relevant to the NIH investigation and this agreement allowed Grady and Emory stop Murtaugh from testifying. Furthermore, as lead counsel Alexander would be in control of the negotiations for his employer. He was in so much control that it is his signature next to Murtaugh's in the ultimate agreement.

Now, what Shafer is saying is that the board of trustees at Grady were never notified of the settlement. This is important because Grady is a public hospital and thus their portion of the settlement would then be tax payer money. As lead counsel, Alexander would be responsible for every bit of the agreement.

By 2004, Grady was again in the middle of another scandal. This one involved State Senator Charles Walker. Again, despite being convicted of 127 separate felonies, Walker was the only one charged and convicted in the case. Not only is it logical to think that it is impossible to commit this much crime on your own, one only needed to be in the courtroom hear of other's involvement. The lead prosecution witness, Joyce Harris, accused much of the higher ups at Grady of all sorts of wrong doing: from witness tampering, intimidation, and kickbacks. Despite it not only making no sense that one person could commit so much crime on their own, and having the star witness accuse others, somehow the powers that be wrapped up their investigation by only convicting Walker himself, and he got only ten years for all those counts.

Now, you might be saying well that's Grady and Alexander was employed by Emory. That is true however the entire Grady staff was Emory faculty and most of the Grady upper level management was also employed by Emory. Thus, while they may seem to be two separate entities to some they are in reality quite interlocked.

Alexander then resurfaces in the case of whistleblower, Kevin Kuritzky. Kuritzky was expelled several months after another investigation of Grady was completed. This one was done by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the Department Health and Human Services. The conclusion of that report was scathing.

an immediate and serious threat to the health and safety of the patients

is what HHS concluded. Emory maintained that Kuritzky was expelled for missing required clerkship training involving patient care, lying to his professors, and engaging in other unprofessional, dishonest and unethical conduct, while Kuritzky maintains that it was retaliation for blowing the whistle on many of the same type of practices mentioned in the report. While Emory outwardly maintains even today that his expulsion had nothing to do with any incendiary charges on his part, I have found an email from Alexander to the then assistant U.S. Attorney that indicates otherwise.

Amy (Amy Kamenshien then Assitant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia) as you know we have had several discussions in the past regarding Dr. Murtaugh and his allegations regarding Emory/Grady. Recently he has had contact with former medical student Kevin Kuritzky. You may in the near future be hearing from Kuritzky or his attorneys and I would advise not pursuing it further. Hope all are keeping well,


Clearly, Alexander expected that Kuritzky was going to say something and he moved to pre empt the investigation. Kuritzky ultimately ended up pursuing his case civilly and that is still pending.

Alexander had one more run in with Kuritzy of note. According to Kuritzky just as the legal process for his civil case was starting, (Before any formal paperwork was even filed) Alexander arranged a meeting between Kuritzky, his attorneys and Emory attorneys, headed up by Alexander of course, and finally a mediator. According to Kuritzky, at this meeting Alexander addressed Kuritzky in this manner,

if you pursue this further, we will smear you so badly that even North Korea won't touch you

According to Kuritzky this was said in front of his attorneys and the mediator who went to the third grade step of calling a timeout in its aftermath. The parties were separated into two different rooms so that everyone could cool down, however Alexander wasn't formally reprimanded for this statement.

The last notable moment in Alexander's tenure came last month when he responded to an Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial regarding unsealing the records of the Dr. Jim Murtaugh case. ( those records have been unsealed and of course I even referenced them earlier)

The AJC's Oct. 5 editorial "Come clean on lawsuit" resurrects (and misstates) old charges of conspiring to misuse government funds, charges the government reviewed seven years ago and declined to pursue. This has the devastating effect of casting public suspicion on two entities —- Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University —- that are working together in an increasingly challenging environment to meet the health needs of the most vulnerable members of our society.

The editorial surprisingly calls on Emory and Grady to open the sealed settlement and court records in a case involving Dr. James Murtagh. For the record, Emory and Grady did not move to seal the record; Murtagh did. Emory had already supported unsealing the proceedings —- the complete, entire record —- as had Grady. We simply awaited the doctor and court's approval. Judge Wendy Shoob has since unsealed the record, which is now of course fully open to the public. The real victim in all of this is Grady, the largest public health hospital in the Southeast. Grady is struggling to survive while misinformation circulates that, unintentionally or intentionally, diverts attention from the real issues.
This statement is absurd on its face (and I should note never countered by the AJC). Murtaugh was paid a huge sum of money (1.6 million dollars) and then told to shut up. That is hush money. It is unlikely that he would be the one that would try and keep those records sealed. It was after all Emory and Grady that paid him not the other way around. They paid him and he was silenced. You do the math. Second, since he was silenced, making this bold face lie is easy since they know he is under order to remain quiet no matter what. Finally, while he was paid the money both parties agreed to a total media blackout. Again, I may not be an attorney however it appears to me that Alexander just violated the terms of the very agreement he helped broker.
The case of Kent Alexander is much like everything about Emory and Grady. There are more questions than answers. Did Alexander receive his cushy position from King and Spaulding as a result of his favorable prosecution in the BNL case? Did he use his influence to squash the NIH and Walker investigations? Did he knowingly violate the policy of the Grady Trustees when he entered into an agreement with Dr. Jim Murtaugh? Did he try to intimidate Kevin Kuritzky?
Only the powers that be know the answers to these questions, however I do know that Grady Hospital may collapse. I know that there needs to be a huge infusion of cash in order for it to survive, and it appears to me that the same people that put it into this position continue to call the shots. I know that if I were a tax payer that was ultimately flipping the bill I would want all of the questions I raised answered, under oath, by Alexander himself, before even one more dime went into Grady Hospital.
For further information on Kent Alexander and this scandal in its entirety, please follow this link to listen to my buddy Snooper discuss this matter further.
For the most part, if you find your way to one of the stories regarding the Grady mess, you will likely get lost in its many mazes. I actually don't believe that this is one of them. I believe that this story speaks for itself, and no matter your incoming knowledge you should be able to follow. If not let me know. That said, you should also know how Alexander fits into the overall scheme of things. Thus, I have put together a summary of the entire fiasco that tries to put all of its moving parts together in one piece. Please read it for guidance. Also, please check out the recommendations that I and my colleagues have put together for fixing Grady Hospital.


Ana Maria Abreu-Velez said...
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