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May 16, 2013 8:01 am

EDITORIAL: Judge got it right

Written by Ilene Olson

Plake sentence strikes difficult balance between punishment and compassion

A 30-month sentence handed down last week to the man who pleaded guilty to helping Paul Cardwell defraud Powell Valley Healthcare is the first step in bringing some justice — and some closure — for the crime, which has had serious ripple effects throughout the hospital and the community.



Michael Plake pleaded guilty in September to helping Cardwell, former chief executive officer for Powell Valley Healthcare, steal $847,884 from that organization in 2011 and another $845,820.77 years earlier from White County Memorial Hospital in Indiana, for a combined total of nearly $1.7 million.

Citing his cooperation with authorities and his desire to begin paying back the stolen money, Plake’s attorney asked that he receive only probation as punishment.

But Judge Nancy Freudenthal declined, noting the ongoing and repeated nature of the crimes, as well as the “staggering” amount of money taken from the hospitals. She said, rightfully so, that the cost of those crimes went far beyond the stolen money by damaging the hospitals’ reputation, and that of HealthTech, which employed Cardwell to manage Powell Valley Healthcare.

That damage has been extensive, both to Powell Valley Healthcare’s reputation in the community, and to morale within the organization. We agree with Bill Patten, current Powell Valley Healthcare CEO, that justice demands more than a “slap on the wrist.”

Patten told of the difficulty he has faced in earning the trust of PHVC employees and overcoming discord and other problems caused by Cardwell’s actions.

Still, it’s possible to feel some compassion toward Plake, who faced the charges head on — and alone — while Cardwell, his so-called friend, fled to parts unknown and left Plake holding the bag.

It’s also possible that the scheme Cardwell proposed 10 years ago may have been represented to Plake initially as something less devious than it actually was. Even so, Plake still is culpable for his role in the deception; at some point, he definitely knew what he was doing was wrong.

One also can feel sympathy for Plake’s family members, who have suffered as a result of his actions and the public ostracization that followed. The fact that Plake was left to face those charges alone must be even more galling to them than it is to the leaders of the hospitals that were defrauded.

If Cardwell is not found, Plake will be responsible for paying back the entire sum of the stolen money, not just the 25 percent he pocketed. Plake said he expects to be paying toward the debt “until my dying day.”

Judge Freudenthal did give Plake some credit for cooperating with authorities by reducing his sentence from a possible 41 to 51 months to 30 months. If Cardwell is located within the next year and Plake testifies against him, Plake’s sentence could be reduced further.

We can only hope that happens.

As the mastermind of the scheme who fled when it unraveled, Cardwell is the real culprit and has shown himself to be a coward as well. We recognize that Plake and his family want the same thing we do: for Cardwell to be caught and brought to justice and accountability.

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