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October 30, 2012 7:59 am

‘No leads’ for Cardwell

Written by CJ Baker

New charges against Cardwell, accomplice expected next month

Federal authorities say they’re no closer to catching former Powell Valley Healthcare CEO Paul Cardwell than they were when he went on the lam two months ago.

Cardwell is a wanted fugitive after dropping off the map in late August. The disappearance came three weeks before a trial was set to begin in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne on charges that Cardwell embezzled nearly $848,000 from Powell Valley Healthcare during his nine-month tenure here. The money was intended for recruiting staff, but no such recruiting was ever done, according to prosecutors.

“He (Cardwell) is still being sought, but at this point we simply do not have any leads as to where he might be, in country or out,” said John Powell, a spokesman for federal prosecutors in Cheyenne. “Frustrating, but hopefully he will be found sooner rather than later ...”

A hearing was held on Oct. 15 to brief Chief U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal on the status of the case, but Powell said little was discussed beyond saying that Cardwell hadn’t been located.

The man Cardwell was sending PVHC’s money to, Michael J. Plake of West Lafayette, Ind., has pleaded guilty to felony counts of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in the scheme and is awaiting sentencing. Plake, who took 25 percent of the money while kicking back 75 percent to Cardwell, has reportedly been cooperating with federal investigators.

Cardwell had initially given the impression he would cooperate, too. His defense attorneys say Cardwell told them he would accept a plea deal and disclose all of his assets. But on Aug. 28, his attorneys realized he had disappeared.

Federal law enforcement officials subsequently discovered that back in June, Cardwell — who had been required to turn in his real passport — had tried getting another one under his birth name of Paul Sappington.

Cardwell did not receive a Sappington passport, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that the world-traveler found another way to get out of the U.S.

Cardwell has been known to frequent Thailand, including sneaking there and playing golf while CEO of Powell Valley Healthcare. One acquaintance of Cardwell’s from Thailand told the Tribune he’d heard a third-hand report that Cardwell had been spotted in Bangkok in September; another acquaintance said the consensus among Cardwell’s Thai golfing buddies is that he’s taken up residence in Cambodia, another country he’s frequented.

When he skipped town, Cardwell had been free on a $50,000 unsecured bond set by U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl.

Wherever he is now, Cardwell’s absence isn’t stopping some legal proceedings from moving forward against him.

A civil suit being pressed against Cardwell and Plake by PVHC in connection with the allegations is set for a pretrial conference on Friday and federal prosecutors in Indiana are reportedly about to seek an indictment against the two men on additional charges.

A Sunday filing from Plake’s defense attorney, Sean Barrett of Cheyenne, says federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Indiana expect to get an indictment for Plake and Cardwell in mid-November. Barrett’s filing does not detail what allegations or charges Plake will be facing but says the conduct is “similar, if not identical, to” what was charged in Wyoming.

At a September hearing, Plake indicated he and Cardwell ran the same “business” before Cardwell came to Powell.

Before coming here, Cardwell was the CEO of White County Memorial Hospital in Monticello, Ind.

The possibility of additional charges being sought against Cardwell and Plake in Indiana isn’t news, but the updated timeline is: Barrett had said in a filing earlier this year that an Indiana indictment against Plake and Cardwell was expected in July.

Barrett said in his Sunday filing that he will be asking to combine the Indiana case with the one in Wyoming, and have one consolidated sentencing hearing held in Cheyenne at a later date.

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