Edward CEO Davis heralded for exposing corruption.
Whistle-blower says she feels ‘closure’
Edward Hospital CEO helped expose Blagojevich’s corruption
By Marni Pyke
“I think I’m being extorted,” an agitated Edward Hospital CEO Pam Davis told skeptical FBI agents in December 2003.
The results of that conversation changed Illinois history and contributed to the downfall of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“This is a very sad day for Illinois,” Davis said Wednesday, hours before the disgraced governor was to head to prison.
“I know ... and perhaps I’m being naive ... but sending Blagojevich to prison will have a chilling effect on corruption that has poisoned the state.”
The head of the Naperville hospital wore a wire to provide evidence of a shakedown scheme against Edward that led to convictions of Blagojevich confederates and helped build the case against the governor.
Davis is sympathetic to Blagojevich’s family but unyielding in her conviction she did the right thing, even though it cost her a hospital in Plainfield.
“I hold him personally responsible for dragging us through the sludge of his corruption,” Davis said in an interview.
The saga started in 2003 when construction executive Jacob Kiferbaum approached Davis regarding Edward’s plan to build a $218 million hospital in Plainfield. If Davis hired his company and a politically connected financing firm, Kiferbaum promised, the then-Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which is appointed by the governor, would approve the Plainfield project.
“This was a very strong-arm attempt to get me to work with individuals who had no experience building hospitals,” Davis said. “An inner voice was saying something was very, very wrong.”
Health board member Stuart Levine, Kiferbaum and their ally Tony Rezko, a Blagojevich fundraiser, all were convicted on corruption charges in relation to the Edward Hospital shakedown.
Initially, the FBI seemed to mistrust Davis’ motives, she recalled.
“Why did they pick you?” agents asked her.
“I finally figured out they thought I was involved,” Davis said. She told them, “I called you,” and received an apology.
That was the start of a collaboration at times farcical, often awkward and occasionally terrifying.
Davis wore a wire in her bra and agents holed up on the Edward campus in a van to catch conversations with the conspirators. It also meant they heard all her other conversations, which cramped her style with friends and colleagues.
Forgetting she was being recorded, a frustrated Davis once called the agents “bozos” while talking to the only other Edward administrator who knew about the plot. She quickly went into damage control mode, afraid of hurting their feelings.
Once, her secretary walked in as an agent lurked under Davis’ desk but said nothing.
Less humorous was the meal in spring 2004 at a Deerfield diner with Kiferbaum, Levine and the project’s would-be financier Nicholas Hurtgen. Davis had intended to prepare the wiretap in her car outside the restaurant but ended up doing it earlier at a meeting with the FBI.
Good thing. She was watched entering the parking lot and escorted into the diner by Kiferbaum.
“If the tape hadn’t been in place, it would have been really terrible,” she recalled. “The whole meeting would have been for naught.”
After brunch, she was followed home.
Davis still bristles at the memory of health board meetings where she was grilled by members only to see votes switched at the last minute and the project defeated.
“They were so sure they were invincible,” Davis said. Levine, Kiferbaum and Hurtgen laughed at her, calling her arrogant and worse.
“We’re in charge,” she recalled being told. “You need to do what we’re telling you or you’re never going to get this hospital approved.”
As a result, her blood pressure shot up and some of her finger nails fell off.
But “if I can’t stand up to this, who can I stand up to?” Davis told herself.
Worse than the physical stress for the Type A, hard-driving Davis was the fear others thought she couldn’t do her job.
“I don’t like to fail,” she said. “I was going to these (health board) meetings and looking like I couldn’t get the project approved.”
Davis wasn’t familiar with the name Tony Rezko, but after the conspirators referred to him, she did a little research, learning he was close to Blagojevich. At some point, she realized the corruption went all the way to the top. Her private suspicions were confirmed in December 2008 when agents called to say they intended to arrest the governor.
“I did get a thrill in hearing that,” Davis said. “I felt so wronged and I felt that health care in the area was so toyed with. Part of me felt vindicated.”
Edward has medical offices, a cancer center and emergency care at the Plainfield campus. Everything but a hospital, which never got approved.
“If I had gone along, the hospital would have been up,” Davis said. “Built and functioning and those guys would have moved on to their next target and behaved the same way they did with me. They’d been doing it for years.
“I just knew I had to report it. Now, I feel closure.”
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services