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By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
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Samaritan will be the pre-eminent nonprofit healthcare system in the Southwest.
--from Samaritan Health System's Mission Statement
The right to be free from misappropriation of funds, and from medical, psychological or physical abuse.
--Number 14, Good Samaritan Care Center Residents' Rights
Jafet Coronado worked as a certified nursing assistant at Good Samaritan Care Center, for $6.49 an hour, the sole support of his wife and child. In May 1995, he was fired from the transitional care facility, charged by the Maricopa County attorney with sexually assaulting a patient and a co-worker while on the job, and jailed. Because he didn't have $15,000 to post as bond for the $150,000 bail, Coronado's aunt and uncle put up their own real estate to get him out of jail. Coronado got a new job as a used-car salesman, where he could be expected to make enough to scrape by.
Then, while Coronado and his family regrouped to face his accusers in court, providence smiled on him. Miraculously, it would appear, Coronado came to be represented by Tom Henze, one of the highest-priced criminal defense attorneys in town. Henze works for one of the most prestigious law firms in town, Gallagher and Kennedy. His client list includes the likes of Hap Tovrea, Jake Plummer and James Robson.
Now a minimum-wage guy who can't even raise his own bail bond has found his way onto Henze's distinguished client list. Is Henze a charitable fellow? Possibly. Is he a smart lawyer who knows how to serve a deep-pocketed client? Absolutely. And by defending Coronado, he is doing just that. Samaritan Health System--the umbrella organization that includes Good Samaritan Care Center, Coronado's former employer--is footing the bill for Coronado's legal defense. Why is Good Sam interested in Coronado's defense? Simple: If Coronado is convicted in the Sian Pitonzo case, Good Sam's liability in a potential million-dollar civil lawsuit filed by one of the alleged abuse victims is established.
On January 3, 1996, Jafet Coronado was indicted by a grand jury in Maricopa County Superior Court, charged with three counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual abuse.
Angela Fulmer, a fellow nursing assistant at Good Samaritan Care Center, accused Coronado of cornering her in a patient's bathroom and grabbing her breast. She alleged that Coronado then forced her hand down his pants to his penis and forced his own hand down her pants, penetrating her vagina with his fingers.
Sian Pitonzo, a quadriplegic patient, accused Coronado of fondling her breasts and forcing his penis into her mouth.
Last month, on the advice of his attorney, Jafet Coronado pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse, a felony under Arizona law: He admitted grabbing Angela Fulmer's breast. Tom Henze had made a deal with the prosecutor, and the other four counts were dismissed. Coronado admitted no wrongdoing with regard to Sian Pitonzo.
Henze was officially representing Coronado's interests, but it's hard to miss the fact that the outcome of Coronado's case benefited Samaritan Health System.
Sian Pitonzo and her family are suing both Coronado and Samaritan Health System, holding Good Sam responsible for putting Sian Pitonzo at risk. An admission of guilt--or even a "no contest" plea--with regard to the alleged crimes against Sian Pitonzo would have been devastating to the defense of the civil case. Henze represents Coronado in the civil suit, too. Again, Samaritan is paying the tab. Samaritan, a co-defendant in the civil suit, has separate counsel--Lonnie Williams, another high-powered attorney from another high-powered firm, Snell and Wilmer. Although Coronado is named in the civil suit, he isn't really the target. Good Sam has assets and therefore stands to lose the most financially.
Critics would argue that if Henze had acted in Coronado's best interest, he would have either let the case go to trial or cut a deal in which Coronado pleaded "no contest" to the charges.
The prosecution had a weak case. One victim was emotionally disturbed; the other has a severe head injury. Henze could have taken the chance of going to trial and clearing his client of all charges. Or he could have agreed to a plea of "no contest," which doesn't admit guilt but does admit that the state has enough evidence to convict.
Instead, Henze made sure all charges that stemmed from Coronado's alleged assaults on Sian Pitonzo were dismissed, while allowing one of Angela Fulmer's charges to stand in criminal court.
Fulmer's charges seemed not to concern Henze. Perhaps because Fulmer is not suing. The two-year statute of limitations in her case ran out in May.
In any event, Angela Fulmer would not have been available to testify. She's dead. Fulmer committed suicide eight months after her encounter with Coronado. Fulmer was emotionally unstable before she met Jafet Coronado, and her diary reveals she was distraught over the abuse incidents and the treatment she encountered by Good Sam personnel in their aftermath.
While Angela Fulmer and Sian Pitonzo were shown little respect--in fact, Fulmer was eventually shown the door--Good Sam has given Jafet Coronado break after break.
Securing Tom Henze's services is just the latest in a series of moves the organization and its employees have taken to protect Jafet Coronado in its campaign to cover its own butt.