CLEVELAND — Hours after he was fired from his role as MetroHealth CEO following an investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds, Dr. Akram Boutros sat down with 3News' Monica Robins to share his side of the story.
According to Boutros, who was set to retire at the end of this year, the allegations against him come as the result of his role as a "whistleblower" during the process of MetroHealth's hiring of his successor, Airica Steed. Boutros says that the allegations against him -- which include $1.9 million in undisclosed bonuses paid over a four-year period beginning in 2018 -- only came after he expressed concern that board members had violated Ohio's sunshine laws by deliberating Steed's hiring and signing agreements outside of public meetings.
“It's because I became a whistleblower. I tell them that these [deliberations] are problematic. A week or so later, they start with this. I find out there are contracts that are signed that are unauthorized. I tell them about that. It escalates again," Boutros told Robins. "So in my mind, this is pure retaliation."
Watch the full interview below:
Boutros says that he had reported his concerns regarding potential sunshine law violations in August after he claims he overheard and saw board members discussing the selection process for his successor. He says that a week later was the first time he was informed of concerns regarding his bonuses.
After explaining his bonus payment, which he says fell in line with the company's policy and was overseen by a compensation consultant, Boutros said he thought the matter was resolved. But on Oct. 10, he says he received a call to meet with the board's chair and vice chair, who informed him they believed he had committed wrongdoing.
"I am utterly flabbergasted by what they're saying," Boutros said. "They're telling me that the board doesn't know anything about its own [bonus] program and that they approved these resolutions not knowing what they contained. What I'm told is that this is going to really look bad for me and for them, from an oversight perspective."
Boutros said that he was advised to hire a lawyer, self-report to the Ohio ethics commission, and repay the bonus money while the board performed its reassessment. Boutros says he followed those recommendations, asking to put the bonus money in escrow, which explains why he self-reported and repaid the money with interest on Oct. 31.
Boutros said that he sent the board a letter on Nov. 11 stating that it was in breach of his contract and that he was terminating his contract for cause. Ten days later, his firing was announced.
"We have taken these actions mindfully and deliberately but with sadness and disappointment," MetroHealth Board of Trustees Chair Vanessa Whiting said in a statement announcing Boutros' firing. "We all recognize the wonderful things Dr. Boutros has done for our hospital and for the community. However, we know of no organization permitting its CEO to self-evaluate and determine their entitlement to an additional bonus and at what amount, as Dr. Boutros has done."
Boutros says that he is taking legal action against MetroHealth, seeking compensation for the damages done to his reputation. Asked about potential criminal charges with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office reviewing the situation, Boutros stated, "I don't believe I've done anything criminal," adding that he has also been in contact with the prosecutor's office regarding his concerns about sunshine law violations.
You can see MetroHealth's two resolutions related to Boutros' firing below, including one passed that takes away some authority from the incoming CEO:
On Friday, Nov. 25, Vanessa Whiting released a statement on behalf of the MetroHealth Board of Trustees:
"We recognize that the public and media organizations want more details regarding the basis for the Board's decision to terminate Dr. Boutros's employment. MetroHealth has determined that the investigation report prepared by Tucker Ellis LLP at the Board's request is not covered by attorney-client privilege, although it is attorney work product. To the extent we need to waive the limited work product privilege to release the Report broadly, MetroHealth hereby does so, without waiving any other privileges to which it may be entitled."
The full report was posted by MetroHealth which can be viewed below: