Witness: Private autopsies done on county time
Share with others:
A former neuropathologist at the Allegheny County coroner's office testified yesterday that he performed private autopsies on county time for former Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, now chief medical examiner in San Joaquin County, Calif., said he dissected brains at the county morgue for Dr. Wecht's private practice, Wecht Pathology, including many for counties outside Allegheny.
"I would examine the Wecht brains and treat them like the way I treated brains for the coroner's office," Dr. Omalu testified as the trial of Dr. Wecht entered its second week at the federal courthouse.
Dr. Omalu also said a deputy coroner sometimes drove him to other facilities, such as Carlow University, the former St. Francis Hospital and the Pittsburgh School of Mortuary Science, to conduct private autopsies.
Federal prosecutors presented his testimony to bolster their contention that Dr. Wecht used county employees to work on private cases for Dr. Wecht.
The famed pathologist is charged with 41 federal offenses, including mail fraud, wire fraud and theft of honest services.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wilson spent the afternoon presenting log entries for dozens of brain dissections recorded in a book kept by George Hollis, the former chief histologist, that Dr. Omalu said he performed for Wecht Pathology.
Dr. Omalu, who started doing autopsies in 2000 and said Dr. Wecht "became like a father to me," testified that Eileen Young, the coroner's office secretary, would cut him a check for the private work using a coroner's office computer and printer.
Dr. Omalu, who left the office last April, will take the stand again today.
Earlier yesterday, a union leader representing coroner's employees described a heated meeting with Dr. Wecht and his top managers over a former deputy coroner's complaint about being asked to run personal errands for Dr. Wecht.
Ronnel Hamiel described Dr. Wecht's conduct during the September 2003 gathering in his private office as so "unprofessional" that she walked out.
Instead of holding an amicable session to resolve the problem, she said Dr. Wecht grilled Heather Morici in a clipped tone and banged on a table.
"If you do not like the orders that are assigned to you," she quoted him saying, "I suggest you find another job."
Other than an unfair labor practice charge filed on behalf of Ms. Morici -- which was ultimately denied because it was sent late -- Ms. Hamiel said she did not file any others related to employee complaints about running personal errands.
She also said she was unaware of any other employees complaining about having a shift changed or being reprimanded because of refusing to do the errands, known in the office as "Wecht details."
However, she described an atmosphere of fear at the coroner's office that left employees who called to complain reluctant to formally protest treatment by management.
First Published February 5, 2008 12:00 am