Rx for Arson?
Dr. Craig Hiller sighed heavily, then picked up his cell phone to tell his wife he was about to be taken to jail.
The physician, who is fighting to keep his medical license after problems with sexual misconduct and drinking, showed up impeccably turned-out in a blue suit for a state Osteopathic Board of Examiners (OBEX) hearing last Friday. He left wearing handcuffs. Scottsdale police and Maricopa County Sheriff's officers arrested Hiller midway through the hearing on suspicion of burning his house for the insurance money. Hiller's bail has been set at $1 million.
"It's a classic case of arson for profit," says Detective Paul Stearns of the Scottsdale Police Department.
Hiller flew in for the hearing from Arkansas, where he moved and opened a new practice, with a provisional license based on his Arizona license. If Hiller loses his license here, he'll also lose his new practice.
Hiller maintains the fire started accidentally when he dropped a butane lighter into a pile of clothes.
"The simple fact is, you pay your insurance premiums, and when you have a fire, you expect them to come in and do their part," Hiller says. "And instead, they come in and come up with all of this junk."
Stearns says the fire was started by a propane torch, not a butane lighter.
Hiller's arrest was the cap to a hearing which seemed to emerge from pulp fiction: The doctor was accused of selling drugs to a professional escort seeking treatment for a leaky breast implant; uniformed and plainclothes cops milled in the parking lot outside the board offices; and a witness on Hiller's side was also arrested on an outstanding warrant.
Hiller was ordered to appear before OBEX, which regulates the state's 1,500 osteopathic physicians, on charges that he'd failed to meet the terms of his probation. Hiller was censured last year by OBEX for sexual misconduct and alcohol use. He was fired by two employers for unprofessional conduct, according to board records. He was ordered to undergo therapy and regular urine tests.
During his probation, another doctor, Rose Richards, contacted the board. She reported that a 19-year-old woman, referred to her by Hiller, tried to buy painkillers from her for $100 cash.
"The impression that I had was she was getting it [painkillers] on a regular basis from Dr. Hiller, and there was payment," Richards told the board. "She actually had the money in her hand. It was bizarre."
The young woman, who went to see Richards about pain from a leaking breast implant, also told Richards that Hiller had made sexual advances to her. "Her words were, 'I'm an escort person, so maybe that's why . . .'" Richards testified. Richards called both the police and OBEX after the office visit.
The woman has moved to Colorado, and did not appear at the hearing. However, in a phone call to board staff, she apparently disputed the charges.
Hiller denies ever prescribing drugs improperly or making any advances to the woman. On cross-examination, Tom Baker, Hiller's attorney, pointed out that Richards, who is also a friend of Hiller's, wrote him a glowing recommendation for a new job at a hospital in Arkansas--even after she'd agreed to testify against him at the hearing.
"I feel terrible," Richards said. "If all I've heard about him in the last few months is true, this is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
The board stopped monitoring Hiller after he told staff he was moving to Arkansas. But, according to testimony from Ann Marie Berger, executive director of the board, he remained in the state and continued to write prescriptions for some patients.
Hiller says that he did remain in Arizona longer than he had planned. But now that he's in Arkansas, he's complying with Arizona's terms of probation.
Baker also noted that Hiller's drug screenings have been clean.
"I had a lot of troubles here, but I have a great practice there now," Hiller says. "I'm seeing a psychiatrist, my wife is there, my kids are in school there now. . . . I wouldn't have come back but for the fact that I have to to keep practicing medicine."
Anthony Coviello, the woman's former boyfriend, was arrested on an outstanding warrant while waiting to testify on Hiller's behalf.
The hearing was then cut short in deference to Hiller's observance of the Sabbath. Hiller is Seventh Day Adventist, and observes the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. He was taken into custody soon after.
Hiller's arrest is the first time a doctor has ever been taken into custody at an OBEX hearing.
Hiller, who is black, and his attorney contend that the charges are racially motivated.
"The doctor lived in a nigger-free zone and his house caught on fire," Baker says.
Stearns denies the case is anything but an ordinary arson investigation. "I'm disappointed that the attorney would stoop to something so low as the race card; it's just an attempt to cloud the issue," he says.
Berger couldn't say what the board might do because Hiller's probation case is still pending. If the board finds Hiller violated the terms of his probation, his license could be revoked. Another hearing was set for this week, but Hiller might still be in jail, unless he can make bail.
The $1 million bond is "obscene," says Baker, who plans to file a motion to reduce the amount. "There are people who kill and rape children who get bail for less."
"His medical license [is] in jeopardy; he is not a resident of the state, his wife is Haitian, his mother-in-law [is] Haitian, his family has money, and he has the opportunity to flee the country," Detective Stearns responds. "We believe he is an imminent flight risk."