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UK Medical Center’s Problems Bubbling To The Top

August 1st, 2012 · 3 Comments

There’s a lot of drama surrounding the University of Kentucky lately. Specifically, Michael Karpf is the hot dog on the bun.

So let’s flash back to late 2003:

Head of UCLA Medical Center Is Leaving Post

The highly regarded system of hospitals and clinics has struggled financially during the tenure of Dr. Michael Karpf.

After struggling for months with wobbly finances and internal dissension, the director of UCLA Medical Center announced Tuesday that he will leave his job to take a top post at the University of Kentucky’s medical center.

Enough to raise an eyebrow or two, right? Especially in light of the nightmare financial situation UK’s medical center has been in, eh?

HAHA, boy, are you ever wrong. This just scratches the surface and isn’t the only reason he fled UCLA. We’ve been following him since early 2010. So let’s dig right in….

In September 2003, the University of Kentucky announced that Dr. Michael Karpf, Vice Provost for Hospital Systems, UCLA Medical Center, would become (on October 1, 2003) Executive Vice President for Health Affairs at the University of Kentucky.

At the time, UK president Lee Todd had this to say: “I am extremely pleased to have a person of Dr. Karpf’s caliber join us at the University of Kentucky,” said Todd. “Dr. Karpf is nationally recognized and has played a major role in bringing UCLA Medical Center to its number 3 ranking, as reported recently by U.S. News & World Report. With the innovative restructuring of the UK Chandler Medical Center, I believe Dr. Karpf will provide exceptional leadership for our clinical enterprise and shares our goal to become one of the nation’s best academic health centers.”

Karpf, in his role at UK, reported directly to Lee Todd and now Eli Capilouto and is responsible for the clinical and administrative leadership of UK Chandler Medical Center. He’s so high up that the dean of the College of Medicine reports to him for all clinical operations. In addition to his primary function, he shares oversight of the colleges of Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy and Health Sciences with UK’s provost.

And in 2003, it seemed as if Karpf was a godsend for the University of Kentucky.

Read the rest after the jump…

Since then, however, I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of horror stories floating out of UK from friends, relatives and officials in state government. Until recently, neither did we grasp the seriousness of their concerns nor the severity of the allegations.

To give you a sense of what we’re talking about you need only read this passage from Jake Adelstein’s book “Tokyo Vice” that shook us to our core.

From a section that’s roughly pages 298-300:

In January or February 2001, Goto’s doctors at Showa University told him that if he did not get a liver transplant soon, he would die. Goto had hepatits C and a heart condition and was a very unlikely candidate for a livery transplant in Japan.

In April 2001, Goto approached the FBI via Hoshi Hitoshi, the former “fixer” for Nobusuke Kishi, with deep connections to the LDP. (Mr. Kishi had served twice as prime minister of Japan. Kishi’s grandson, Shinzo Abe, became prime minister in September 2006.) Kishi relayed Goto’s offer.

The FBI wanted the names of important yakuza because Japan’s National Police Agency refused to share that information with it, due to “privacy issues.” This effectively made it impossible for the FBI to monitor yakuza activity in the United States.

Goto promised to give the FBI (and possibly another intelligence agency) a comprehensive list of Yamaguchi-gumi members, related front companies and financial institutions, and information on North Korean activities.

In exchange for that information, Goto wanted a visa to the United States so he could get a liver transplant at UCLA.* Goto had set up the UCAL deal on his own, there’s no doubt about that. The visa came when the FBI pressured U.S. Immigration and Customs to grant him one, which it reluctantly did.

If I had been Jim, I would have taken the deal. The intelligence potential was huge. The FBI wasn’t giving him a liver, it was just giving him a key to the door. UCLA did the rest. According to Manabu Miyazaki, a journalist, apologist for the yakuza, and close friend of Goto’s, in addition to the yakuza-related intelligence, the FBI was especially interested in the information Goto had on North Korea. It was at a time when North Korea had been implicated in making high-quality counterfeit U.S. currency, and this was also of great interest to the United States. Goto had always had tight connections to North Korea, which allegedly supplied him with drugs, guns and money.

The surgery took place on July 5. However, Goto gave the FBI only a fraction of the information he had promised. Once he had his liver, he hopped back on a plane to Japan and never spoke to the FBI again. There were no records of Goto returning to Japan.

-SNIP-

Goto told one of his associates that he’d paid a total of $3 million for the liver. (Police reports have the figure as $1 million and speculate that Goto’s doctor was paid $100,000 for each “house call” to Japan, usually conducted at the Imperial Hotel.) The only people who knew about the deal with the FBI were Goto’s inner circle. This was a good thing to know.

It was while first poring over the other Yamaguchi-gumi materials that I realized Goto was probably not the only one to have received a liver transplant at UCLA. There were probably three others.

I thought I had a hell of a story, not just from an American perspective but from a Japanese perspective as well. Japan has a very stringent organ transplant system. Donors are few, and operations are rare. Most Japanese people who need an organ transplant either leave the country or die waiting for one. From an American perspective, it seemed deplorable as well. Why would Japanese criminals get precedence over law-abiding U.S. citizens? I had no idea.

I wrote up what I knew for a book, which was originally going to be published by Kodansha International, the English-language division of Kodansh, one of Japan’s oldest and best-known publishers. I tried writing the story for a weekly magazine and was told bluntly, “No way.” No reasons were given.

I decided to wait. And I would probably still be waiting if there hadn’t been a minor glitch.

Kodansha International ran a long introduction to the book on its European Web site without letting me know; I only noticed it in November 2007. It didn’t spell everything out, but it had enough, if you were Tadamasa Goto, to clue you in that trouble was brewing. I had Kodansha remove the page from its Web site, but I’d underestimated both the ability of Goto’s henchmen to read English and the possibility that they could use Google Alerts. One of Goto’s associates would later tell me that someone had probably managed to get a copy of the catalog description of my book, which might have confirmed their suspicions.

-SNIP-

In UCLA’s defense, it has never been proven that UCLA or Dr. Busuttil knew at the time of the transplants that any of the patients had ties to the Japanese mafia. Both have said in statements that they do not make moral judgments about patients and treat them in accordance with their medical needs. However, they have not explicitly denied knowing that some of these patients had yakuza ties; they have simply refused to address the issue of what they knew about the four and when they knew it. It should also be noted that the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with UCLA conducted an investigation into whether the UCLA medical center or its staff acted improperly when it performed liver transplants on the four Japanese patients. According to the Los Angeles Times, the investigation found no evidence of improper conduct. However, many have questioned the morality of giving organs to foreigners with criminal records at the expense of Americans.

What happened at UCLA may not just be morally questionable, but federal law enforcement sources suggest that UCLA May unwittingly have gotten involved in money laundering. Several special agents explained to me on background that money laundering, on an international level, simply means the transfer of criminal proceeds from overseas to the United States, as in the Emperor of Loan Sharks case. Since yakuza generally obtain most of their money from criminal activity, there is at least a good possibility that some of the money paid to UCLA by at least one of the four treated men with yakuza ties stemmed from illegal activity in Japan. To my knowledge, none of the men treated have been investigated for money laundering and any investigation would require assistance of the Japanese authorities. And, of course, the question remains whether UCLA even knew that the men they treated were yakuza (to my knowledge, they have never denied knowing the men had yakuza ties but emphasized that they do not pass moral judgment on their patients) and whether they knew that any of the payments (or donations, for that matter) could have stemmed from illegal activities. I would love to know the answers.

That’s right – UCLA’s Medical Center sold liver transplants to Japanese mob bosses in exchange for donations of dirty money.

So we started digging and found the Los Angeles Times story from May 31, 2008:

A powerful Japanese gang boss who received a liver transplant at UCLA Medical Center donated $100,000 to the Westwood hospital shortly after the surgery, The Times has learned.

-SNIP-

UCLA confirmed the amount of the donation Friday. Law enforcement sources say Goto, 65, is the leader of the ruthless Goto-gumi gang. He received a transplant at UCLA in July 2001, The Times reported Thursday. He made his donation less than three months later.

UCLA also acknowledged that it received a separate $100,000 donation from another man who figured in Thursday’s story. He donated in 2002, the year of his transplant.

-SNIP-

The surgeries took place at a time of persistent shortages of donor livers. In the year of Goto’s transplant, 186 patients on the list for livers died while waiting for the operation in the greater Los Angeles region.

-SNIP-

Wealthy foreigners, he added, are attractive to transplant programs because not only do they pay the full cost for their procedures, but they often make gifts of gratitude later.

Dr. Joseph Tector, chief of transplant at the Clarian Transplant Institute at Indiana University, defended UCLA’s actions. The occupations of his patients are not relevant, he said.

“As doctors, you are not a member of the clergy to ascertain someone’s worthiness,” he said. “You don’t want to discriminate. These calls don’t come so much into questions with other procedures. But with livers, the water is muddied because not everyone can get transplants. There aren’t enough livers. ”

But Dr. David Mulligan, a liver transplant surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, took issue with UCLA’s statement that it does not make moral decisions when it adds patients to its transplant waiting list. He said transplant professionals make such decisions every day.

Just who was at the helm of UCLA until 2003? None other than Michael Karpf.

Could this be why Karpf landed in Kentucky? Could Lexington have been the exile he needed?

Because beyond the fiscal shape of the medical center, we’re concerned about his role in THAT nightmare in Los Angeles. Regardless of whether or not anything was illegal.

We know a lot more about what’s going on these days but figure it’s best to string people along. To let the story sink in. To prevent mainstreamers from taking our work and running it as their own without any sourcing or credit. So stay tuned.

Tags: Flashback · Investigation · UK · Wasted Money

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 UKeye // Aug 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Bravo on the story. Raises your hair, doesn’t it? Though, in the end it’ll only help Capilouto to send Karpf off with a golden parachute and bring in his own pal. …Not that Mike doesn’t deserve to be known for ALL he really did…

  • 2 William M. Redmond // Aug 1, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Can we get a true number of square feet of the med center that are either not finished or not in use? It is in the tens of thousands.

  • 3 UKeye // Aug 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    To be fair, the entire UK: 30,000+ people (plus alumni) – didn’t know what they (us) were getting when Lee Todd and his board hired this guy.

    But Lee clearly knew.

    What the …. did he think of?!