I-Team: Why are Whistleblowers Being Punished? - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp

I-Team: Why are Whistleblowers Being Punished?

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LAS VEGAS -- Nevada's medical community received conflicting signals regarding whistleblowers.

The State Board of Medical Examiners sent a message Friday that doctors who testify against other doctors will not be punished. But physicians at UMC recently decided to expel two whistleblowers while at the same time, embracing the target of a criminal investigation.

"Countless physicians knew what was going on and nobody came forward. Countless lawyers knew what was going on and have not come forward. That's the biggest difficulty in these cases -- no one is willing to talk," said attorney George Kelesis.

Kelesis asked the medical board to send a message that is it okay for doctors to come forward with information about wrongdoing by other doctors. Kelesis represents two physicians who testified for the government in the Medical Mafia saga -- Dr. Ben Venger and Dr. John Thalgott.

Two dozen doctors and lawyers received subpoenas as possible targets of the FBI and IRS investigation, yet the Medical Board came after the whistleblowers, not the targets.

Kelesis says this not only made it harder for federal lawmen to go after the Medical Mafia suspects, but has also handcuffed prosecutors pursuing the endoscopy fiasco. Nevada doctors and nurses with information simply won't come forward because they think whistleblowing results in punishment.

"Look at all that goes on and no one says anything. Look at the difficulty of the endoscopy centers they had -- the problems at UMC. No one speaks," said Kelesis.

Kelesis worked with state lawmakers last year to draft a whistleblower protection law for the medical field. The Medical Board did not cooperate with that bill but came face to face with it Friday. General counsel Ed Cousineau suggested from Reno that the complaint against surgeon John Thalgott probably shouldn't have been filed since Thalgott was never a target of the federal investigation and came forward on his own to testify.

Cousineau said the U.S. Attorney's Office thinks Thalgott's testimony was critical in getting guilty pleas from attorney Noel Gage and surgeon Mark Kabins. For that reason, an agreement was worked out to forego any punishment of Thalgott for initially trying to protect his former partner, Dr. Kabins.

Board members did not seem anxious to approve the deal.

Minutes later, the vote was unanimous to forego punishment of Thalgott and to send a message. Yet during the hearing, Kelesis revealed that a conflicting message had been sent at UMC hospital. The board's medical committee has recently voted to strip whistleblowers Thalgott and Venger of any hospital privileges while welcoming the man they testified against, Dr. Kabins.

How could UMC say a confessed felon is ok, but the witnesses who helped the government are not?

Kelesis says two doctors present at the closed door meeting confided what they heard at UMC.

"Quote, ‘I see doctors do things wrong every day but I won't tell anybody.' That was said at UMC," he said. 

The decision by UMC seemed even more odd since Thalgott has not practiced there in years. Kelesis says he might go to court to get to the bottom of UMC's unusual decision.

A chief officer at UMC says Dr. Kabins is not new to the hospital -- he's been working there for awhile -- and it will be up to the medical staff, not the hospital, whether he is allowed to stay, just as it was the decision of medical staff to exclude Dr. Thalgott and Dr. Venger.

As a matter of disclosure, George Knapp says his family once hired the Kelesis law firm for a civil matter.

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