By Danny Robbins
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has launched an investigation into whether former prison doctor Yvon Nazaire presented valid credentials when he was hired to provide medical care for the state’s female inmates.
GBI Public Affairs Director Scott Dutton said Friday the agency started the criminal probe at the request of the state attorney general’s office.
In Georgia, providing false information on a state job application can be prosecuted as a felony, punishable with a sentence of one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
Nazaire did not respond to voicemail and text messages seeking comment Friday.
Nazaire also is the subject of an ongoing probe by Georgia Regents University looking at both his treatment of inmates as well as the overall performance of Georgia Correctional Health Care, the branch of the university that provides medical services for the Department of Corrections.
GRU spokeswoman Christen Carter said Friday the university supports the AG’s office and will continue to cooperate with it in the matter of Nazaire’s job application.
The GBI investigation was requested by Senior Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin in a letter to GBI Director Vernon Keenan Thursday. McLaughlin noted in the letter that, although there are questions about the care Nazaire provided to women in the prison system, the GBI investigation should focus strictly on whether he submitted false information when he was hired.
“It is my understanding that there is litigation or pending litigation regarding Dr. Nazaire’s level of care in the prisons,” McLaughlin wrote. “However, my investigation request is limited to whether he lied in 2006 during the hiring process.”
Dutton said McLaughlin’s letter, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday from the GBI in response to an open records request, was largely a formality that had followed discussions between the GBI and the AG’s office.
“I do know that (the matter) has been sent to our Atlanta field office and I do know they are opening a case,” Dutton said.
Nazaire has been the subject of a months-long series of stories by the AJC detailing how at least nine inmates in his care have died without receiving treatment that might have saved or prolonged their lives. Seven of those inmates were at Pulaski, the state’s second largest prison for women, and two were at the smaller Emanuel Women’s Facility in Swainsboro.
In a story last week, the AJC also detailed the cases of three former inmates with cancer whose illnesses weren’t detected by Nazaire or his subordinates at Pulaski despite symptoms that experts said should have brought immediate action.
Nazaire was suspended with pay by Georgia Regents on July 21, two days after the AJC published its investigation on the Pulaski deaths as well as a story revealing discrepancies between what the physician stated on his job application and where he actually worked.
Nazaire did not complete the portion of the application dealing with his employment history. Instead, he submitted a resume showing he was then working in the emergency rooms of three New York hospitals.
However, the AJC found other documents, including Nazaire’s own bankruptcy court filings, indicating that he wasn’t employed by those hospitals at the time. One, in fact, had closed its ER seven years earlier.
In an interview with the AJC in June, Nazaire acknowledged that he was out of work when he applied for the prison job. The reason he listed the three hospitals as current employers was to show that he hadn’t been fired by them, he said.
“Maybe what I put (on the resume) I put the wrong way,” he said. “I don’t have anything to hide.”
Nazaire was hired by Georgia Correctional Health Care at an annual salary of $150,000 and was receiving a salary of $174,300 at the time of his dismissal.
Prosecuting state employees who misrepresent their credentials in Georgia typically falls to the AG’s office instead of local district attorneys.
In one such case, a woman was sentenced to probation and fined $1,000 in May after pleading guilty to claiming employment experience and degrees she didn’t have. The woman, Donna Alexander, used the bogus credentials to be hired as the director of human resources for the Georgia Department of Public Health at a salary of $92,000 a year.
The law against falsifying state documents also was used by Fulton County DA Paul Howard in convicting seven of the 11 educators prosecuted in the APS cheating scandal.
Nazaire came to Georgia in 2006 in the midst of a three-year probation imposed by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct. The board’s ruling was based on a finding of gross negligence in Nazaire’s treatment of five ER patients, one of whom died after the physician failed to diagnose a heart condition.
Although the New York board’s ruling required that Nazaire’s practice be closely monitored throughout the probation period, he was licensed without restriction by the Georgia Composite Medical Board and hired months later to oversee the medical unit at Pulaski.
Dr. Edward Bailey, the medical director for Georgia Correctional Health Care at the time, has repeatedly declined requests by the AJC to discuss how Nazaire was vetted.