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Former Fletcher Allen CFO pleads guilty

BURLINGTON — The former chief financial officer of Fletcher Allen Health Care pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that he made false statements to health care regulators as part of a multi-year scheme to hide the true costs of the Renaissance Project, a massive expansion at the state’s largest hospital.

David Cox, 52, pled guilty to charges in state court and admitted to his role in hiding millions of dollars in costs from officials at the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA).

Prosecutors claim that the Fletcher Allen scheme included the submission of a false financial model to BISHCA as part of the application submitted in 2000 by Fletcher Allen to build the Renaissance Project, as well as the Public Oversight Commission.

After obtaining BISHCA approval, based upon false information, Fletcher Allen continued to misrepresent the costs of the project by, among other things, claiming in filings with BISHCA that the costs of the project would be $173.4 million. Hospital officials continued to use this false data until late 2002. Cox left in July 2001.

The project, at completion, cost more than $350 million.

Cox also agreed to a federal civil forfeiture of $25,000, and 100 hours of community service. He will not face federal charges, prosecutors said in a statement.

Cox is the fourth Fletcher Allen officer to plead guilty to criminal charges.

Former Chief Executive Officer Bill Boettcher, 57, was sentenced to two years in prison repaying almost $750,000 to Fletcher Allen, which he was granted as part of a severance package when he left the hospital in 2002.

Dave Demers, a former senior vice president, pled guilty to conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation. His sentence is pending.

Thad Krupka, the former chief operating officer, pled guilty last year to three state charges of making false claims, and agreed to cooperate. He paid a $170,000 forfeiture and his sentence is also pending.

Fletcher Allen reached a settlement agreement with state and federal prosecutors, too, regarding the Renaissance Project investigations. As part of that settlement, Fletcher Allen paid $1 million, half to the state and half to the federal government, in October 2003. The $500,000 payment to the state will be used for in-state, health-related projects.

Tsoi-Kobus and Associates, the architectural firm for the project, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and paid $1.3 million to resolve its role. Macomber Barton Mallow, the construction management firm, also cooperated and paid $150,000. Vermuelens Cost Consultants, the construction cost estimating firm used by Fletcher Allen, cooperated and forfeited $50,000.

Finally, Downs, Rachlin, Martin, Fletcher Allen’s outside legal counsel, settled its potential legal disputes with Fletcher Allen for approximately $2 million.

Speaking truth about power

We are down to the wire on Vermont Yankee. On Nov. 15-16, a meeting of a key federal subcommittee in Brattleboro is expected to be the last public hearing in Vermont before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission makes its decision early next year on Entergy’s proposal to increase power at the ageing Vernon reactor. The meeting also marks a unique confluence of state and federal regulatory interests, since the last real remaining state hurdle — a certificate from the Public Service Board — could hinge on this subcommittee’s recommendation to the full NRC.

The hearing is important, because Entergy’s application is not just about a 20 percent “uprate.” The subtext of the uprate application is Entergy’s intention to run VY for 20 years beyond its initial license period, which ends in 2012, and run it hotter than it was designed for. The Louisiana-based corporation has hinted that without the ability to generate and sell additional power, Vermont Yankee would cease to be profitable and thus could close even before its current license expires.

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Zogby poll: Majority supports impeaching Bush for wiretapping

WASHINGTON, D.C. — By a margin of 52 to 43 percent, citizens want Congress to impeach President Bush if he wiretapped American citizens without a judge’s approval, according to a new poll commissioned by AfterDowningStreet.org, a grassroots coalition that supports a Congressional investigation of Pres. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

The poll was conducted by Zogby International.

The poll found that 52 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.”

Of those contacted, 43 percent disagreed, and 6 percent said they didn’t know or declined to answer. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

“The American people are not buying Bush’s outrageous claim that he has the power to wiretap American citizens without a warrant. Americans believe terrorism can be fought without turning our own government into Big Brother,” said After DowningStreet.org co-founder Bob Fertik in a statement.

Responses to the Zogby poll varied by political party affiliation: 76 percent of Democrats favored impeachment, compared to 50 per cent of independents and 29 per cent of Republicans.

Responses also varied by age, sex, race, and religion. 70 percent of those 18-29 favored impeachment, 51 percent of those 31-49, 50 percent of those 50-64, and 42 percent of those older than 65. Among women, 56 percent favoured impeachment, compared to 49 percent of men. Among African Americans, 90 percent favoured impeachment, compared to 67 percent of Hispanics, and 46 percent of whites.

The new Zogby poll shows a major shift in support for Bush’s impeachment since June 2005. In a Zogby poll conducted June 27-29, 2005 of 905 likely voters, 42 percent agreed and 50 percent disagreed with the identical statement asked about in this recent polling.

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Leahy, Jeffords support hearings on Feingold censure proposal

Vermont’s two senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and Independent Jim Jeffords, believe that hearings should be held on the Bush administration’s secret domestic wiretapping program before a censure vote is held.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, has introduced a resolution calling for censure, accusing Pres. George Bush of violating the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Few Democrats have openly come out in support of the measure.

“Sen. Feingold says he intended his resolution to prompt congressional investigations into the president’s actions on these issues. Republican leaders so far have been reluctant to allow that,” said David Carle, a Leahy spokesman. “Sen. Leahy believes in first things first, and the first thing is Congress doing its oversight duty in investigating the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which both Leahy and Feingold sit, have held two hearings on the domestic surveillance program.

Jeffords “would like to have hearings on the resolution,” said Diane Derby, a spokeswoman.

On Jan. 20, Leahy introduced a resolution that would put the Senate on record refuting Pres. Bush’s assertion that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed before the invasion of Afghanistan, authorized warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, Carle added.

“Both the Feingold and Leahy resolutions have been referred to the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Leahy has been pushing for full congressional investigations and oversight of the issues that both resolutions address,” said Carle.

Feingold’s resolution reads, in part:

“Resolved that the United States Senate does hereby censure George W. Bush, president of the United States, and does condemn his unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required.”

Feingold’s resolution states censure is warranted by Bush’s “failure to inform the full congressional intelligence committees as required by law, and his efforts to mislead the American people about the authorities relied upon by his administration to conduct wiretaps and about the legality of the program.”

The only president ever censured by the Senate was Andrew Jackson, in 1834, for removing the nation’s money from a private bank in defiance of the Whig-controlled Senate. In 1999, Senate Republicans tried but failed to bring a censure resolution against Pres. Bill Clinton after he was acquitted by the Senate on House impeachment charges that he committed perjury and obstructed justice.

Feingold was the lone senator to oppose the 2001 Patriot Act. Two weeks ago, he was joined by Jeffords, Leahy and seven other senators in opposing a renewal of the law with some new curbs on police powers.

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Terror alerts conveniently timed

NEW YORK — Over the last three years, political problems for the Bush administration have frequently coincided with the announcement of changes in alert status, arrests, and other warnings about potential terrorist threats. The list was released last week by MSNBC personality Keith Obermann, who posted the details on his blog.

While noting that “just because Event ‘A’ occurs, and then Event ‘B’ occurs, that does not automatically mean that ‘A’ caused ‘B’,“ Obermann concludes that the sheer number of coincidences “underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country — questions about what is prudence, and what is fear-mongering.”

Here are some highlights:

  • On May 18, 2002, details of the president’s daily briefing of Aug. 6, 2001, are revealed, including its title, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S.” Two days later, FBI Director Robert Mueller declares another terrorist attack “inevitable.” The following day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues warnings of attacks against railroads and New York City landmarks.
  • On June 6, 2002, Colleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, testifies before Congress. Four days later, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused of plotting a bomb attack. By this time, Padilla has been detained for more than a month.
  • On Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell tells the UN Security Council about Iraq’s concealment of weapons, justifying a UN or U.S. first strike. Two days later, amidst anti-war demonstrations around the world, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cites “credible threats” by al-Qaeda, and raises the terror alert level to orange.
  • On July 24, 2003, a congressional report on 9/11 concludes that Iraq had no link to al-Qaeda. Five days later, amid headlines about U.S troops abusing Iraqi prisoners, the Department of Homeland Security issues warnings of further terrorist attempts to use aeroplanes for suicide attacks.
  • On Dec. 17, 2003, 9/11 Commission Co-Chairman Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable. The next day, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay, who has found no weapons of mass destruction, announces he will resign. Three days later, DHS again raises the threat level to orange, claiming “credible intelligence” of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities.
  • On March 30, 2004, the new chief weapons inspector in Iraq tells Congress that investigators still haven’t found any WMD. Three days later, DHS issues a warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains.
  • On July 6, 2004. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry selects U.S. Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, producing a swing in media attention. Two days later, DHS Secretary Ridge warns of information about expected al-Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn.
  • On July 29, 2004, the Democrats nominate Kerry for president. Three days later, the DHS raises to orange the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington. The evidence proves to be four years old and out-of-date.
  • On Oct. 6, 2005, the press reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA leak grand jury, and that the special prosecutor can’t guarantee that he will not be indicted. Hours later, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city’s subway system, based on information supplied by the federal government and later proven false.