Tuesday, June 5, 2007

How Did A Criminal Get His Medical License Back?

A powerful state senator from North Texas comes to the defense of a convicted felon.

Some of the senator’s constituents are angry.

The senator is angry about some of the questions asked by CBS 11 Investigator Robert Riggs.

Questions like: How did a convicted felon get his medical license back?

A CBS 11 investigation finds he may have had a little help from a friend in high places.

CBS 11 confronted the senator with questions about our investigation of Dr. Jack Thomas.

"I think it's a witch hunt," said Senator Bob Deuell. "I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Why did Senator Deuell personally intervene to help a convicted felon and campaign contributor get his medical license back?

"I believe in redemption, and he was good orthopedic surgeon when I knew him up at Texoma," said the senator. "He paid his price, and he was doing a good job."

Senator Deuell is also a family physician. He is a 20-year friend of Dr. Thomas.

Both practice at the Presbyterian Hospital of Greenville.

That’s where our investigation first began.

We uncovered that Dr. Thomas had fraud and drug convictions.

In 1991, Dr. Thomas spent eight months in the Texas prison system.

Dr. Thomas did not report his criminal history to the Texas Medical Board as required by law.

His attorney calls it an "administrative oversight."

"I would like to have known because I would not have went," said former patient Vernia Lee. "I would not have went to him at all."

Lee and her husband Charles are among the families of more than a dozen former patients who have contacted CBS 11 with complaints about Dr. Thomas.

The Lee’s say they may file a medical malpractice lawsuit and want to know how a convicted felon was allowed to practice medicine again.

The Lee's are also upset because a CBS 11 investigation found that Senator Deuell received a total of $4,250 in campaign contributions from Dr. Thomas.

On April 4, 2002, Dr. Thomas made his first contribution of $2,000 to Senator Deuell’s campaign.

In 2003, after Deuell was elected to the senate, he personally appeared before the medical board for Dr. Thomas.

The board then voted to end Dr. Thomas’ medical probation six years early.

Deuell says he appeared as a family physician and claims some board members probably didn’t know he was a senator.

"It was a very informal meeting," said Senator Deuell. "I just told them my story about knowing him and that he deserved a second chance."

The senator says he was not aware that Dr. Thomas had contributed $2,000 campaign

"He's a friend and a supporter," said Senator Deuell. "Lot's of people gave me money."

Charles Lee believes it’s a case of money talks in politics.

"I scratch your back, you scratch mine; that's what it always comes down to," said Lee. "You do a favor for whoever does favors for you."

"That's not the case," said Senator Deuell. "He did a good job at Texoma. He's doing a good job here. He got an overwhelming amount of support from the newspaper and the letters to the editor. I still stand by him."

Senator Deuell also says that Dr. Thomas’ legal problems with the medical board have nothing to do with his competency as an orthopedic surgeon.

Dr. Thomas’ attorney says their client is proud of the record of success in the treatment and care of his patients.

He also says that there is nothing improper about making a contribution to a political campaign.

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