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Reform and renewal, Indian pharmacist edition

Tuesday, Oct 16, 2007

* An investigation of a “major fundraiser” for Gov. Rod Blagojevich who was also a member of the governor’s transition team came up empty. But the investigation came under investigation

A state Medicaid fraud probe into a major fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich was fraught with complaints from career investigators that they were hindered by political interference during their three-year case, a Tribune investigation has found.

The first investigator on the case reported that he got a call from his boss, the state’s top pharmacy regulator, asking him to do a favor for the fundraiser, a Joliet drugstore owner who helped get the regulator his job.

In the months that followed, other investigators complained that a proposed audit was scaled back, that an investigative subpoena was stalled and that they suspected the pharmacist was forewarned of their strategies, according to the former senior assistant attorney general who oversaw the Medicaid probe.

* Harish M. Bhatt is the pharmacist in question…

As a member of the governor’s transition team, Bhatt said, he put forth the names of Indian-American professionals suggested from within that community to fill state posts. Two of those he recommended became members of the state’s Board of Pharmacy, and another became the director of drug compliance for IDFPR, the state’s top pharmacy regulator.

* That regulator recommended by Bhatt is apparently Yashwant Amin, who the Tribune claims “took over the top regulator’s job in September 2003 with the responsibility of overseeing the agency’s staff of seven pharmacy auditors.”

A month after Amin was appointed…

“[Veteran auditor James F. Thorns] stated that on Friday, Oct. 3, 2003 Thorns received a phone call from Amin, Thorns’ boss,” State Police Special Agent Mario Mollo wrote in an investigative report obtained by the Tribune. “Amin told Thorns that he had a ‘good friend’ and Amin wanted to know what Thorns could do to help his friend.

“Thorns asked Amin what friend he was alluding to and Amin told Thorns his friend’s name was Harrish [sic] Bhatt. Amin told Thorns that he talked to Bhatt after Thorns’ visit to Basinger’s Pharmacy on Friday, Sept. 5, 2003.”

* Amin flatly denies that statement by Thoms, who died in 2006. This is the response from the Blagojevich administration…

“It sounds to me like all you have is some unsubstantiated allegation from a dead guy,” [IDFPR spokeswoman Susan Hofer] said.

Actually, no. As the Tribune article notes, some people who are still very much alive are not happy about the way that whole thing went down.

* Related…

* The Association of Indian Pharmacists in America recently held their 14th annual banquet at the Holiday Inn Express in Elmhurst. This event was attended by well-known celebrities, including Gov. Rod Blagojevich and spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, along with over 600 members and invited guests., according to an organization press release.

“AIPhA has made significant gains in the political arena, having earned newfound respect and co-operation with a plethora of state representatives,” the release added. “Through its efforts, AIPhA has brought government officials to the table and has opened dialogues never before possible. Even now, AIPhA is preparing itself to work with the state on many issues including measures to: increase access to pharmaceutical care to every citizen of Illinois; enact legislation that will properly monitor and control Pharmacy Benefits Managers’ irregular and incoherent policies that have financially crippled the state and pharmacies alike.”

* “The Association of Indian Pharmacists in America (AIPHA) supports Illinois Covered as the most comprehensive plan proposed to date to provide health insurance to all Illinoisans, and the Gross Receipts Tax proposal to provide the funding necessary to successfully implement the program,” said Harish Bhatt, Executive Director of the AIPHA.

* Three days of lavish festivities will ring in the 57th Indian independence day on Aug. 15 in Chicago with the Indian American community inviting Bollywood stars Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit as Grand Marshals.

Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) president Raghu Nayak said the two stars will join Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. […]

Harish Bhatt, parade chairman
, said this year the FIA expected 40 floats showcasing India’s traditions, culture, costumes, religions, languages, music, dance and cuisine.

* And a photo of Blagojevich with Bhatt…

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - GoBearsss - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 10:16 am:

    Pretty harsh quote by the IDFPR spokesperson. I am guessing (hoping?) that it didn’t come out as she intended. Yikes…

    I have a lingering feeling after reading the article, though, that I can’t quite figure out if anything wrong took place. We have a lot of hyperbole by the prize-seeking Tribune journalists (as usual), but also a lot of possibilities for undue influence here.

    Maybe if they published the results of their investigation (if legal to do so), they could quiet the critics. But I don’t think they will, and I don’t think it would.

  2. - Ghost - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 10:24 am:

    Who watches the watchman…

    I wonder if Fitzgerald will be pulled in to look at the underlying complaint or the investigation.

  3. - irishpirate - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 10:43 am:

    I am SHOCKED SHOCKED at any allegations involving this administration. Next thing you post will be about the governors daughters receiving thousands of dollars in gift from his “friends”.

    I am truly disappointed that you would post this drivel. I am looking forward to Hillary Clinton picking Governor Blago as the next US Attorney General. He did start out as a State’s Attorney after all.

  4. - Captain America - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 11:30 am:

    Something doesn’t quite pass the “smell test.” The lawyer for the Attorney General’s office appears to think something was wrong with respect to the resolution of this investigation.

    I read the article carefully, but could not really tell if anything illegal transpired. Mr. Amin appears to have made mistake by calling Thorns in the first place, but then did the proper thing by recusing himself.

    What makes me look askance at the outcome is that Bhatt commissioned a self-serving audit that effectively cleared himself of any alleged wrongdoing.

    Fitzgerald should put this situtaion down on his list of matters to investigate. Somehow Thorns’ findings were undermined or refuted. It should not be too difficult for Fitzgerald to figure out whether the decisions made in this case were legitimate or compromised. The case warrants a second look by an objective outsider.

  5. - Isn't It Too Bad.... - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 11:35 am:

    ….that Ms. Ottenhoff’s statement that “He (the gov) believes state government should reflect the people it represents,” doesnt’apply to all the Citizens of Illinois who want their Gov. & legislative leaders to stop acting like spoiled brats?

  6. - Ron Burgundy - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 11:36 am:

    I’m sure state employees everywhere are happy to know that when they depart this life the spokesperson for their agency will be there to trash their reputation and life’s work. Classy.

  7. - Just My Opinion - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 12:03 pm:

    Patrick Fitzgerald, calling Patrick Fitzgerald. Hello, hello, is anyone there? Oh Mr. Fitzgerald, it’s you? Finally, I got through. Too busy to talk? Yeah, I understand that but just one thing. Do you think you could pay a little more attention to what’s going on under the dome? What’s that you say, you’re buried in work up to your big whats? Hmmm, that’s interesting. Our governor doesn’t have a pair of those. The natives are getting restless, sir. Got too many open files you say? Understand that too. But still Mr. Fitzgerald, I mean, things are just so blatantly wrong down here and it’s obvious as the nose on my face. Could ya just put a couple of extra people on this thing for a few months? Come again? You’ve got your whole staff up to their what’s in alligators? Sir? And they’re trying to drain the swamp? Oh that’s cute - NOT. All I want you to tell me is if you’re working on the horrendous situation going on under the dome. Yes, I said horrendous. Oh you’re trumping my horrendous? You’re real funny ya know that? I wouldn’t have thought that of you. Now when I speak of “under the dome”, you know I’m meaning the top guy don’t ya. Don’t start opening up more files on other stuff. Yeah, I know there’s enough stuff going on here to keep you busy for a lifetime. Well sir, you do have retirement to look forward to. Retirement is not in your vocabulary, not in this state anyway? OK, OK, lighten up. Could you just try to speed things up? You’re getting a man right on it? Alrighty then, that’s good enough for me. I hope we’ll be hearing from you soon. Not soon enough you say? I’ll second that. Well good luck to ya sir, it’s been a pleasure.

  8. - so-called "Austin Mayor" - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 12:08 pm:

    Proposed photo caption:

    “Do I hear eight? In the back? Eight! Eight dollars for a genuine oil painting. Do I hear nine?”

  9. - Budget Watcher - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 2:14 pm:

    Does anyone else wonder how the Tribune latched onto a story originating from an investigator that died last year? Obviously he didn’t go to the Trib with the story, so someone else alerted these reportors to the potential cover-up, and the reporters discovered enough to raise the possibility of wrong-doing. Why the 18 month delay between the time the investigator alleged interference and the time the State Police began investigating? My guess is that the Trib reporters are writing about things that others are currently investigating.

  10. - BlunderBoy Biographer - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 3:01 pm:

    It all sounds like the SOS investigators who were “reassigned” after the Milwaukee truck crash after Scooter traded CDLs for campaign cash.
    I believe the ISP brain trust sanitized that one too. Good to see they can handle stuff for both parties.

  11. - Macoupin County - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 3:02 pm:

    Budget Watcher,

    State workers who have been there for more than 5 years are afraid to go public, this poor guy tried to bring it to his supervisors attention sadly to no avail.

  12. - Hugh - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 4:52 pm:


    Bhatt, Renuka & Harish
    Lockport, IL
    Occupation: Pharmacist

    to Friends of Blagojevich

    $20,000.00 6/30/2005
    $22,000.00 8/6/2003
    $9,000.00 2/24/2003
    $5,000.00 9/14/2002
    $5,000.00 7/3/2002
    $1,000.00 3/13/2002

  13. - Hugh - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 5:01 pm:


    Association of Indian Pharmacist
    same address

    to Friends of Blagojevich

    $4,000.00 6/28/2007
    $25,000.00 10/25/2002
    $40,500.00 10/19/2002

  14. - BlunderBoy Biographer - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 5:36 pm:

    But what have ya done for me lately?
    Next funder?
    How about tonight

  15. - fed up dem - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 7:38 pm:

    I worked with Jim Thorns for years and his picture should be the definition of decent and honorable. He is one of the finest human beings I ever met and also one of the most competent investigators I have met in 27 years of law enformcement work. I don’t believe for one minute that his audit was flawed. Also if you ever met Sue Hofer you would know she meant her comment to be as bad as it came out. This administration would do anything to make it self look better. I doubt that Jim’s wife or children log on to this site, but I wish they did. What was done to Jim is a disgrace.

  16. - Concerned Voter - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 8:29 pm:

    “’It sounds to me like all you have is some unsubstantiated allegation from a dead guy,’ [IDFPR spokeswoman Susan Hofer] said.”

    Wow, what a statement. So, using that quote as a guideline, could someone say that quote was from a tactless IDFPR political IDFPR spokesperson?

  17. - Disgusted - Tuesday, Oct 16, 07 @ 9:46 pm:

    Is this the same man who’s letters to the editor supporting the Blagojevich administration frequently appear in the SJR?

  18. - dumb ol' country boy - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 6:44 am:

    So now the administration attacks the only guy that cannot defend himself now, Investigator Thorns. Amazing…what this administration will do for the almighty dollar.
    To the family of Inv. Thorns…I am sorry you have to go through this, but stand strong. The least the state can do is fire the IDFPR Susan Hofer for her ignorant statement relating to “a dead guy.” Oh my god what a new low, you Susan need to go back to college and re-take communications 101.
    Finally to all of those “state law enforecment investigators,” see how this administration will treat you, they are not your friend…Do not cover up for these people, there is strenght in numbers!!!!!!

  19. - JustAFriend - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:17 pm:

    James Thorns was a great man. Anyone that has said otherwise I assume did not know him personally.

  20. - Concerned and Ethical Pharmacist - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 11:57 am:

    Jim Thorns was an honest, hardworking and dedicated pharmacist and investigator. He was a class act and should be recognized as a remarkable credit to a once respected Department. IDFPR has sadly morphed into one of the bigger jokss in state government, where jokes and jokers are plentiful.

  21. - Irritated Motivated Friend - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 2:51 pm:

    Jim Thorns was an intelligent, hardworking investigator who protected the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Illinois by deed, not empty promises and smoke and mirror programs. His work product was always meticulous and flawless. He did not make mistakes nor did he misunderstand the content of conversations—he quickly and astutely grasped what was happening. Jim was dying of terminal cancer and letting a case sit for 18 months provided a great way to “quietly” get rid of a problem. Hopefully, Jim Thorns’ work will be the thorns that bring down those who have failed to protect the public.

  22. - Pop - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 6:02 pm:

    I’m the 84 year old father of a special, special
    son, Jim Thorns!!! I’d like to demand Susan Hofer
    resign, before she’s fired!!!! I can’t believe
    that Illinois has made two words, politics and
    corruption, synonymous. And Susan, I pray no one
    has to defend you after you’re dead!!!! Our family are thankful and grateful for those of you
    out there who had the pleasure of knowing Jim Thorns!!!

  23. - Sardarji - Thursday, Oct 25, 07 @ 11:31 am:

    Raghu Nayak gets so many government favors!!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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