A grand jury indicted Albany, Ga., physician John Bagnato and his office administrator, Charles Rehberg, for allegedly sending harassing faxes to officials at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Albany. Bagnato, who has been embroiled in litigation with Phoebe Putney for some years, was the whistle-blower who spurred a series of class-action lawsuits brought by plaintiffs attorney Richard Scruggs against not-for-profit hospitals nationwide over the billing of uninsured patients. Bagnato and Rehberg were indicted on six criminal counts of harassing phone calls, in this case faxes. In addition, the two men and a bodyguard were charged with one count of aggravated assault for allegedly threatening a physician and one count of burglary for allegedly entering the physician's home uninvited.
In a statement, Bagnato denied committing any criminal offense and said he "relished the opportunity to prove that the allegations contained in the indictment against me are not true. If speaking out against graft and corruption is now a crime in this great country of ours, we are all in big trouble." Bagnato, partner in an ambulatory surgery center that competes with Phoebe Putney, helped spur the first Scruggs case in 2004. Information from the suit about the alleged free-spending ways of Phoebe Putney executives and board members sullied the hospital's reputation and attracted congressional attention. This past June, a judge dismissed the case against Phoebe Putney with prejudice. At deadline, the hospital had not responded to phone calls seeking comment. -- by Mark Taylor