As has been noted of late in the AJC, Democrat Ken Hodges, candidate for Attorney General (Website | Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitter) continues to be haunted by his actions last decade in a curious case of allegedly outrageous and improper actions undertaken by him in his capacity as then-District Attorney of Dougherty County.
The allegations, if true, call into serious and profound question the professionalism, honesty and capability of Ken Hodges to become the top law enforcement officer for Georgia.
But to understand the seriousness of the situation Hodges allegedly created for himself, let’s go back to the beginning.
In the first half of the last decade, Georgia surgeon Dr. John Bagnato and his accountant, Charles Rehberg, took issue with the billing practices of the local non-profit hospital, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany.
The two of them were certain that they found irrefutable evidence that Putney was making hundreds of millions each year, charging unnecessarily high fees to their poor patients, all while their executives enjoyed handsome compensation and the hospital paid no taxes because of its non profit status. In February of 2004, the two of them decided to get this message out. In that month, on multiple occasions, Charles Rehberg ANONYMOUSLY sent out faxes to local business leaders and politicians.
But what exactly did Dr. Bagnato and Rehberg learn?
In effect, they found evidence to suggest Phoebe Putney failed to fulfill its charitable obligations as a tax-exempt entity.
Once executives at Phoebe Putney learned of these anonymous facsimile transmissions being sent around town, they allegedly contacted then-District Attorney Ken Hodges. With allegedly no knowledge of any illegal activity being perpetuated by the then unknown whistleblowers, Hodges issued a series of subpoenas on official letterhead from the Office of the District Attorney:
– On October 22, 2003 to Bell South
– On December 1, 2003 to Bell South
– On January 20, 2004 to Bell South
– On February 5, 2004 to Bell South
– On February 24, 2004 to Alltel
– On an unknown date during this time to Sprint
All subpoenas were issued for phone records related to telephone numbers for which Bagnato and Rehberg had access, or to telephone numbers which received the anonymous fax transmissions (like the office of Congressman Sanford Bishop). During this time an additional subpoena from Ken Hodges’ office (allegedly signed by Hodges himself) was also issued to internet service provider Exact Advertising, which produced to Hodges the personal and confidential e-mails from the personal computers of one of the whistle blowers.
Remember, there was no indication at this point that anything illegal (that would require the District Attorney to investigate) had occurred.
But I digress. What was so curious about these subpoenas? Let’s look at the very first one issued.
What do we see here? Well, the document, filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court for Dougherty County on October 22, 2003 at 1:29 p.m. states that a Subpoena Compliance Officer is:
hereby required to be and appear at the Grand Jury for the Dougherty County Superior Court before the Honorable Loring Gray, Chief Judge of the Superior Court, in Room 216 of the Dougherty County Courthouse at 10:00 a.m. on the 5th day of November, 2003 and bring with you certain documents to be presented in a matter now pending; APD case #22-03-024016 (Harassing phone calls).
The other subpoenas take a similar lead from this one.
So what’s wrong with that? First, on the dates listed there was no Grand Jury meeting to consider any cases involving Dr. Bagnato or Charles Rehberg. Also, Harassing Phone Calls is a misdemeanor and not a felony (thus not requiring a Grand Jury to meet). It, per O.C.G.A. 16-11-39.1, requires someone to “telephone another person repeatedly, whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of annoying, harassing, or molesting another person of the family of such other person.”
Since neither Bagnato or Rehberg had sent their anonymous facsimile transmissions to any recipients to a degree that would be considered harassing, and with the clear fact that the subpoenas were issued containing a clear factual error regarding the impaneling of a Grand Jury, it is highly suspect what Ken Hodges’ motivations exactly were as his employees allegedly performed these tasks while in their official capacity.
Also highly unusual is that the result of the subpoenas (private e-mail messages and phone logs) were allegedly given to representatives of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. At least, attorneys in Albany who represented Phoebe Putney were sent bills for the retrieved records obtained as part of the subpoenas (of course, allegedly):
As the information requested by subpoena from Ken Hodges’ office was reviewed, Charles Rehberg was sued by Phoebe Putney for 60 million dollars for defamation of character and harassment. The lawsuit, it should be noted, was later dismissed.
But Rehberg’s life took an unusual term when he was allegedly accosted by representatives of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in his own parking lot on the evening of August 9, 2004. These individuals, allegedly retired Federal agents, demanded that Rehberg accompany them to a meeting with Phoebe Putney representatives, threatened him with criminal prosecutions, mentioned his family by name and attempted to force him to sign an “Immunity Agreement” immediately.
So what did this “Immunity Agreement” say? Let’s review the first page of said document.
WHEREAS, Phoebe Putney has been the target of a corporate campaign including anonymous facsimiles and other schemes designed to harm the business of Phoebe Putney and to create dissention between its Boards and management; and
WHEREAS, Rehberg has actively participated in the distribution of facsimiles and other information for purposes of harming Phoebe Putney and creating dissention between its Boards and management staff; and
WHEREAS, Phoebe Putney contends that Rehberg’s conduct violates both federal and state criminal statues; and
WHEREAS, Phoebe Putney has prepared civil litigation against Rehberg which includes claims for defamation, tortious interference with business relationships, RICO violations as well as other causes of action which, if successful, will result in personal liability of Rehberg for potentially millions of dollars; and
WHEREAS, Phoebe Putney has caused the District Attorney of Dougherty County, Georgia to open a case against those responsible for the facsimiles and other schemes designed to harm the business of Phoebe Putney and to create dissention between its Boards and management; and
WHEREAS, Rehberg and Phoebe Putney desire to resolve all criminal and civil claims which Phoebe Putney may have against Rehberg in exchange for Rehberg’s cooperation including, but not limited to, the identification and prosecution of other conspirators engaged in the schemes designed to harm Phoebe Putney’s business and to bring dissension between its Board and management;
NOW, THEREFORE, Phoebe Putney and Rehberg agree as follows:
1. Rehberg agrees that he shall cooperate by giving information and sworn testimony whenever requested to either law enforcement officials or representatives of Phoebe Putney[.]
Emphasis above is mine.
What is known is that the individuals who confronted Rehberg were not from Ken Hodges’ office. But they sure seem to know what is going on there, especially that “Phoebe Putney has caused the District Attorney of Dougherty County, Georgia to open a case against those responsible for the facsimiles and other schemes designed to harm the business of Phoebe Putney and to create dissention between its Boards and management[.]”
Huh. A non-profit hospital has compelled the elected District Attorney for Dougherty County to start an investigation? Most interesting and perplexing that people outside Ken Hodges’ office seem to know an awful lot about what is going on inside said office as they try to have someone sign a document that clearly is to the benefit of Phoebe Putney. All allegedly, of course.
This incident resulted in a letter from Rehberg’s attorney to Ken Hodges.
In the missive from attorney Robert E. Mulholland, Hodges was formally put on notice about the alleged events of August 9, 2004 and asked to investigate.
And Ken Hodges, your Democrat candidate for Attorney General, did respond.
On December 14, 2005, Charles Rehberg was indicted on charges of aggravated assault, burglary and “harassing telephone calls” in Dougherty County, involving allegedly an interaction with Dr. James Hotz, affiliated with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. This indictment came without any investigation by the Albany Police Department or any other police agency.
Hodges’ Chief Investigator, James Paulk (the same guy who handled the subpoenas) later testified in a deposition the Albany Police Department wasn’t involved because of “lack of confidence in the City police department to handle it.” Interestingly, he handled the investigation allegedly without interviewing any witnesses or gathering any evidence. If he had done so, he would have learned that Rehberg had never even been to Hotz’s residence. (Don’t forget that in the subpoena above, issued by Paulk, he referenced Albany Police Department case number #22-03-024016 (Harassing phone calls). Strange how he could do so and then admit that APD wasn’t involved.)
But that didn’t stop the media spectacle of the arrest of whistleblower Charles Rehberg by Ken Hodges’ office.
What happened with this amazing case put together by Ken Hodges’ crack team? It was dismissed prior to a hearing concerning the legal sufficiency of the indictment.
But that doesn’t stop the prosecutions. While Hodges’ has rescued himself from the matter by this point, he allegedly was still working in the background with regard to this matter.
Thus, a second indictment was issued against Rehberg (again involving the same alleged victim) on February 16, 2006 which included charges of simple assault and harassing telephone calls.
As before, the defense filed motions attacking the legal sufficiency of the indictment due to the fact that Rehberg still had never been to Hotz’s home and there was no evidence to support the matter proceeding. On April 10, 2006, the prosecution announced a second time that they would dismiss the matter. For some reason, though, they didn’t do so. It wasn’t until July 7, 2006 that the Superior Court of Dougherty County dismissed the indictment based upon the statement from the prosecution in open court.
Think we’re done yet?
A third indictment was secured against Rehberg, again for “simple assault” and harassing telephone calls.” Can you guess what happened? Yup, Judge Harry Altman issued orders dismissing the charges again against Rehberg.
Although the dates above on the web page found are more recent, she had been a Phoebe Putney employee throughout this ordeal.
Did I also mention that Ken Hodges, while District Attorney, received campaign contributions from Phoebe Putney?
Surely I must have mentioned that Ken Hodges is now employed by Baudino Law Group, which counts as one of its main clients Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany?
I didn’t? Well, now you know.
Sick of the alleged abuse of power from Ken Hodges’ office, Rehberg sued Hodges (among others) in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia accusing him of an illegal and improper abuse of power. Hodges, represented ironically enough by the Attorney General of Georgia (the very office he aspires to run), made a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. That motion was denied by the District Court.
This last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard Hodges’ appeal of the lower court denial of his motion. That is where the case currently sits, awaiting a decision from the jurists there.
A most curious case this is where Hodges allegedly is involved in matters for which his office in Albany had no interests and for which he has yet to give a true accounting of his actions. One also must wonder if this is the type of man Georgia needs as its top law enforcement officer and who he could act in similar fashion against if given the opportunity to hold such office.
But this story is not yet complete. Check back later this week for more on this matter and a candidate for Governor who has been trying to get to the bottom of these allegations concerning community hospitals for awhile.