WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - A West Lafayette youth minister and former White County Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer (CEO) each face almost 300 years in prison in a federal mail fraud case.
Michael Plake, the director of religious education and youth minister at St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Center at Purdue, and Paul Cardwell, the former head of the White County Memorial Hospital, both face 15 charges.
In a recently unsealed indictment, investigators say, in just seven months, the pair defrauded a Wyoming healthcare business of more than $800,000.
Authorities laid out their case in a federal indictment. In March 2011, they said Cardwell, the CEO of Powell Valley Healthcare Inc., in Powell, Wyoming, who formerly held the same position at White County Memorial Hospital, set up a fraudulent billing scheme with Plake.
Investigators said Cardwell sent Plake almost $847,884 to supposedly handle physician recruitment. Instead, they state Plake pocketed 25% of the money and sent 75% back to Cardwell.
Authorities said Plake did no such recruitment and when healthcare auditors questioned the payments, the men faked agreements and invoices.
The people inside Plake's Tippecanoe County home did not come to the door Thursday night.
Plake's neighbor Bob Kussmul said it's impossible to believe and that Plake has always been a good neighbor.
"You sure you got the right guy?" Kussmul asked. "That's hard to believe."
Father Patrick Baikauskus at St. Thomas Aquinas hired Plake about two years ago.
"It's very sad," he said about the situation.
Father Baikauskus said Plake told him of the indictment last week. Father Baikauskus called Plake a well-qualified candidate for the post who has turned out to be an outstanding employee, one of the best education directors the priest has ever worked with.
Plake is currently suspended from his duties, but will continue to receive his $27,000 annual salary.
"In charity, we presume that he's innocent until any other disposition," Father Baikauskus said. "So for the time being, he's suspended. He has no responsibilities here."
Both Cardwell and Plake face 15 charges including mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted on all counts, each man faces 290 years in prison and a $3.75 million fine.
"I'm dumbfounded, it takes my breath away, just to hear about it," Kussmul said. He hopes his neighbor is found innocent. "Oh god yes, but my gosh, that's a lot of money."
Father Baikauskus feels the same way.
"Knowing Michael as I do, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt," he said.
Both men are out of jail on a $50,000 bond.
They have a trial date scheduled for June 4.
In July 2011, the White County Memorial Hospital became part of the IU Health network.
IU Health White Memorial Hospital Spokesperson Carrie North released this statement:
"We are cooperating with the authorities in their investigation of Paul Cardwell, former CEO of White County Memorial Hospital. Although Mr. Cardwell has never been an employee of IU Health White Memorial Hospital, we are moving forward with our own investigation, as well. I can assure you that the matter under investigation has not affected the care we provide patients now or have provided in the past."
**Photo of Paul Cardwell courtesy of Powell (WY) Tribune.
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