Blast from the Past
By Mariano "Anong" Santos
Left PHOTO: Village of Morton Grove officials Ed Ramos (L) and Dr. David Calimag discussing the Nov. 8 film showing OF "THE GREAT RAID" STARRING JAMES FRANCO, CESAR MONTANO, BENJAMIN BRATT.
The October 15, 2015 edition of the Chicago Tribune carried this item, “Ex-CEO of defunct Chicago hospital gets 21 months.” Like a ghost, this story brought back an event that still haunts the community. A recollection is in order.
Remember Dr. Salvador “Buddy” Vivit? He’s a physician who used to be active in the Chicago Filipino community—specifically in the expanding masonic circle. His frat bros liked his being quick to pick up the tab after their late nocturnal drinking sessions.
Dr. Vivit is said to be overly accommodating—dispensing prescriptions to even nodding acquaintances --with minimum questions. Some of his “friends” even sweet-talked him into vouching for their non-existing illnesses and use the corresponding documents to bilk insurance providers. “Mahusay siyang makisama,” they would then proclaim. This trait did Dr. Vivit in.
Dr. Vivit maintained a medical clinic in Elmwood Park. He was also a resident doctor at Edgewater Medical Center at the Chicago Northside and a sister-hospital in the Southside Englewood area. The owners of both hospitals became the target of federal investigation in the early 2000s for massive Medicare fraud.
Dr. Vivit was asked by the FBI to testify against the owners but he refused to rat on his employer. Meanwhile, government investigators acting on a tip by a disgruntled partner of Dr. Vivit, raided his clinic and discovered incriminating records revealing fraudulent medical procedures.
One case that hit Dr. Vivit hard was his vouching for Veronica Leighton, publisher of a local Filipino magazine. Mrs. Leighton collected disability from her insurer, Mutual of New York (MONY) based on Dr. Vivit’s medical findings which were proven false.
Government prosecutors pressured Dr. Vivit to testify against his employers (the hospital owners) or if he still refused he would be prosecuted for his illegal medical practices. Dr. Vivit refused to betray his employers.
Cases were brought before him and one of the government star-witnesses against him was Mrs. Leighton who was able to cut a deal with the prosecutors—pleading guilty to a felony charge in exchange for a three-year sentence with no jail confinement.
He was found guilty and spent seven years in a federal prison. He was summarily deported to the Philippines in 2008. A sad footnote to the Vivit saga was his claim (when he sought an interview with this writer in Manila to present his side of his story) that he never collected fees from Mrs. Leighton or from most of his “patients.”
In that interview, he also bewailed his failure to get proper legal representation. The nice guy who held court with “friends” who imbibed on his free drinks were, in the end, nowhere to help him in his moments of destitution. Sadly, the belief that masonic brothers help brothers in distress, seemed to have failed Dr. Vivit during his time of trouble.
But the hospital owners that Dr. Vivit protected, like Peter Rogan, the former CEO of the defunct Edgewater Medical Center lived it up—drawing from an offshore account--$11 Million from 2002 until he was caught in June and was extradited from Canada where he rented a $5000-a-month penthouse condo.
Rogan skipped town after a civil judgment of $188 million was slapped against him. On Oct. 14, he meted 21 months for lying about a trust fund that he told the court was not his but actually his asset protection. He told the court that he is living on an $800 social security monthly check.
Mrs. Leighton who according to a report in 2000 by a local community columnist appeared for her sentencing—looking forlorn, unkempt and pitiful—proved that she is good in acting. She successfully elicits mercy from the judge who gave three years of house arrest and a bracelet around her ankle.
Angry Responses to our Medicare Fraud coverage
Forty one netizens responded in anger and with derisions in their comments on our Oct. 2015 article “Fil-Am leaders slam increasing Medicare Fraud” which was carried on-line by the much visited website, “Inquierer.net” the internet version of the no. 1 newspaper back home, “The Philippine Daily Inquirer.”
That is a large reaction. Readers bewail the audacity of some Filipinos in America who do business without integrity and with greed. The print version elicited a different “angry” response. Day after PINOY came off the press, Miguel Duquilla who together with his wife Estrellita, co-owns HCN Home Health Care—one of the companies indicted relating to Medicare fraud angrily protested PINOY’s coverage last month.
“Why do you have to put us (he and his wife) on the cover when the amount involved is small? (Their indictment involves $6 million.) The FBI has no evidence. Our lawyer will get back to you as soon as we got cleared of the accusations,” said Mr. Duquilla who spoke in Tagalog.
I pointed to him that the story relied on the FBI news releases which made it clear that indictment doesn’t mean guilt. I assured Mr. Duquilla that PINOY will run a follow up story if and when Mr. and Mrs. Duquilla and their fellow indictees are proven innocent.
Disappointment over PINOY’s Medicare story was also expressed by members of the Free Masonry fraternity on why this writer—a master mason, at that—had to include “brothers” who were also indicted for Medicare fraud. Further, I was criticized for bringing out with unsavory news—that “embarrasses” the Filipino community.
I explained to those who bothered to listen that PINOY will not be worth the paper it’s printed on (to use a cliché) if it censors itself of news that are of extreme important to the community—in which the “Medicare fraud’ can be categorized. When public funds are misused and the welfare of the citizens are severely affected and, to top it all, is when “public trust” is breached, it is the obligation of the press to relay the information to the people.
That is why Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in jail—although he DID NOT actually receive the money he was found guilty of soliciting. Last month, a CEO of the Chicago Public School pleaded guilty and she faces up to seven years imprisonment for the free sports tickets she accepted and other small stuff that spelled conflict of interest. (Ah, $6 million, Mr. Duquilla, is no petty cash!)
Public trust is sacred. Masonry is about integrity or put another way, it’s doing the right thing even when nobody is looking. If PINOY is caught in “pakikisama” and “kahiyahan” syndrome in weighing in on what it should print as news that is the day PINOY should cease publication.
Now read the books
PINOY in collaboration with the Village of Morton Grove Public Library, Gawad Kalinga, Filipino American Historical Society of the Midwest, NaFFAA, Philippine Consulate General and Filipino Choir of St. Martha Church will have a FREE screening of the historical action of this movie, the Great Raid,” Sunday, Nov, 8 at 1:30 pm at the Morton Grove Public Library, 6140 W. Lincoln Ave.
The film, “The Great Raid,” starred James Franco, Benjamin Bratt, Joseph Fiennes and Cesar Montano who in his recent visit here recalled the heroism of Filipino soldiers who he believes deserve U.S. Congressional honor for their valor and sacrifices.
It was 70 years ago when the most successful rescue of WWII took place on Jan. 30, 1945 when Filipino guerrillas coordinated with an elite U.S. military team raided a Japanese concentration camp in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija where the surviving 513 allied POWs awaited certain extermination by their desperate captors.
The event was chronicled in the “Ghost Soldiers” by Hampton Sides and “The Great Raid on Cabanatuan” by William Breur—the two books from which the screenplay was based. I am certain you will find the film worth seeing. It highly recommended that you also read these books. This is in celebration of Fil-Am History Month and Veterans Day. For details, call Ed Ramos (224)-875-8359 and Anong Santos (847) 528-4991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.