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Rezko whistleblower still has no hospital, five years after the fact
By Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff

Edward Hospital CEO Pamela Davis


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Published: 6/8/2008 12:04 AM

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It takes two to tango.

Illinoisans are fond of complaining about political corruption, but what if the businesses and individuals who came in contact with politicians seeking bribes refused to play ball and ratted them out?

If Edward Hospital CEO Pamela Davis of Naperville is any example, the lesson is doing the right thing is a double-edged sword.

Davis was the company CEO who felt she was being shaken down by construction company executive Jacob Kieferbaum when she went to the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board in 2004 to apply to build a hospital in Plainfield.

She was told if she hired Kieferbaum to build the hospital, at a more expensive rate than a company she had already chosen, she'd get her hospital. If she didn't, no hospital.

Davis went to the FBI, and the end result was the conviction of Kieferbaum, health facilities planning board member Stuart Levine and, on Wednesday, former political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

So all's well that ends well, right?

Not exactly.

Five years later, Edward still has no hospital in Plainfield, whereas if Davis had just gone along to get along, chances are it might. The company has applied again for a permit, but there's no guarantee it will be granted this July.

Which begs the question: when businesses and individuals get shaken down -- often in terms that are vague and much less obvious than the approach used with Davis -- do they have an obligation to blow the whistle and perhaps lose a job or crucial business, or is it OK to take the perfectly legal route of taking the "suggestion" of which contractor to use, or which consultant to hire?

"I appreciate the awkward position it puts people in," said Jim Wagner, the head of the Chicago Crime Commission and a former FBI agent. "It's a terrible chance to take. But I do think you have to fault those people (who don't come forward) because we as citizens do have a responsibility."

If we don't, he said, "We're really taking a chance on destroying our society. … Those are the people who have to step forward and have to puff out their chest and say 'I'm not going to let it continue,' " Wagner said.

Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association isn't as convinced.

"Ask anyone who's ever blown the whistle whether it caused them any pain, stress or harm," Stewart said. "If it was easy to do, a lot more people would be doing it."

The typical response to whistleblowers is character assassination, possible firing and maybe lost business, he said.

"It does take two to tango, but when the second person has a gun put to their head, I don't know if I can fault them for dancing," Stewart said.

Given the difficulty, blowing the whistle "takes courage," said Patrick Collins, the former federal prosecutor who put George Ryan in prison but is now in private practice.

"I'm thinking about IBM," said Collins. "It was the brand name in computers and they're basically told (during the Ryan administration), 'If you don't hire Larry Warner, don't bother applying' " for a state contract.

Warner was Ryan's best friend at the time.

"Does IBM have an obligation to step forward? Clearly, they don't have a legal obligation," Collins said.

"Corporations who have courage but aren't making money go out of business. They're being responsible by thinking of all these (financial) issues. But at the end of the day, to break this cycle, I do think it takes people to say, 'Hey, this ain't right,' " Collins said.

And what does Pamela Davis think?

She wouldn't comment for this story, but Edward Hospital Vice President and spokesman Brian Davis made the following statement when asked about the burden of blowing the whistle.

"I want to be very clear that Pam has absolutely no regrets," said Brian Davis, no relation to Pamela Davis. "But this week's events are another reminder that it's been nearly five years since Edward first filed an application to build a hospital in Plainfield. The people who are still waiting are the people of Plainfield."