Audit Questions Expenses at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

May 1, 2012; Source: D Magazine

Sometimes what comes around goes around. Back in 2008, the Cohen Report covered a scandal at the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) Medical Center. We reported that the nonprofit Medical Center kept a list of rich and famous people who would get concierge-type treatment at the hospital, an “A-list” of preferred patients. Among the 6,400 A-listers were then-Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas); Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas); owner of the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers (and former baseball team-owning partner of George W. Bush) Tom Hicks; the publisher and the editor of the Dallas Morning News; developer Trammel Crow; hedge fund impresario T. Boone Pickens; and business tycoon and former third party presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.

Our source was an intrepid investigative reporter at KTVT named Robert Riggs who even reported that his station’s news anchors were on the A-list. Riggs kept digging and reported UTSW’s expenses included some pretty fancy European trips charged to the hospital, purportedly to meet with funders and donors in London, Milan, Nice, and Paris. The hospital was also buying rare auctioned wines for use as donor appreciation gifts, Riggs reported. Pablo Eisenberg also wrote about the UTSW case in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The KTVT investigation wasn’t treated very kindly. The university expressed its disagreement with our story and the Eisenberg coverage, but that was nothing like the blowback Riggs told NPQ at the time that he got at KTVT. Now comes a 365-page audit with lots of confirmation of the KTVT charges of questionable spending. In the wake of the audit, Kern Wildenthal has resigned as special assistant to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s president. The audit included a look at 20 foreign trips that it found had “no legitimate business purpose or benefit to UT Southwestern” and stated that Wildenthal “routinely mingled his personal and business expenses.” Examining scads of expenditures, the auditors concluded that Wildenthal “exercised questionable judgment.” Wildenthal has reportedly promised to make full restitution for expenses that the audit considers inappropriate.

The interesting part of the story isn’t that Wildenthal’s legions of supporters are defending him, including a contention from the chairman of UTSW’s Southwestern Medical Foundation that Wildenthal is being “crucified.” Rather, we find interesting the coverage of D Magazine and the Dallas Observer noting that the Dallas Morning News took seven months before it finally published a long article based on the audit. Reportedly, Dallas Morning News reporters had the audit information in September and couldn’t get it published. The reason? According to D, “Robert Decherd [the president and CEO of the company that owns the Morning News] and Kern Wildenthal are bosom buddies. Decherd did everything he could to protect to his friend.” If this is true, it is absolutely infuriating.

The reporter who originally broke this story, Robert Riggs, was let go by KTVT in 2008. We’d like to buy Riggs a drink and congratulate him for the integrity—and accuracy—of his investigative work. Call us, Robert!—Rick Cohen