Former Fletcher Allen CEO pleads guilty to misleading regulators

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(Host) The former chief executive of Fletcher Allen Health Care pleaded guilty on Tuesday to misleading regulators about the true cost of a multi-million dollar hospital expansion project. William Boettcher’s plea to a federal conspiracy charge is a major milestone in the case. But state and federal prosecutors say the investigation remains open, and that more charges are possible.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) William Boettcher faces up to two years in jail for lying to the state about the Fletcher Allen expansion project and Attorney General Bill Sorrell is clearly satisfied. Sorrell said that, as he sat in court and watched Boettcher plead guilty, he thought about how far the former CEO had fallen.

(Sorrell) “He walked in there a free guy, with a clean resume, CEO of the biggest health care facility in the state of Vermont, living on a yacht in Seattle and he stands right now as a convicted felon. Handed in his passport, can’t leave the territorial waters of the United States, paying Fletcher Allen $733,000 and he stands potentially to spend the next two New Years in prison. Bad day at the office.”

(Dillon) In court, Boettcher answered in a strong, clear voice when U.S. District Judge William Sessions asked a series of questions about the case.

Yes, he said he understood the charges.
Yes, he understood that he had waived his right to a trial by jury.
Yes, he was pleading guilty freely and voluntarily.

But Boettcher hesitated when asked if he had lied both to hospital trustees as well regulators at the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, otherwise known around the state as BISHCA. Acting U.S. Attorney David Kirby explained that for the purposes of the guilty plea, Boettcher only had to admit that he was part of a conspiracy.

(Kirby) “I think it’s of significance that he was willing to plead to defrauding BISHCA, being a participant in a conspiracy to do that, but not willing to say that he had been in a conspiracy to defraud the board of trustees. I think we’ll have to see when the sentencing facts come out exactly what the significance of that is, and what he is indicating.”

(Dillon) The criminal case against Boettcher involved a major renovation at the state’s largest hospital. The hospital won state approval to spend $173 million, but Boettcher and other officials hid $80 million in project costs. The budget for the expansion plan eventually ballooned to $370 million.

Kirby says the case remains under investigation. Boettcher’s cooperation is not required by the plea agreement.

(Kirby) “There are many interests, obviously, in entering a plea agreement. One interest obviously is that the government and all the parties do not have to go through a full trial. As the attorney general so accurately said, there are tens of thousands of documents. I think from one party we received 190 boxes of documents relevant to this investigation.”

(Dillon) The former CEO will be sentenced in April, and the court has scheduled a week for both sides to present evidence.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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