The UC Board of Regents allowed William De La Pena of the Committee on Health Services to remain on the board despite violating the board’s conflict of interest rules, according to a May 2nd report released the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica.
The report details a secret March 2015 investigation led by outside investigator Keith Rohman of Public Interest Investigations, Inc., in which De La Pena tried to strike a financially beneficial deal between his Southern California eye clinics and UCLA that lasted from October 2013 through January 2014.
Whistleblower complaints against De La Pena led UC Senior Vice President for External Relations Daniel M. Dooley to oversee an investigation under the UC system’s Policy on Reporting and Investigating Allegations of Suspected Improper Governmental Activity, known as the Whistleblower Policy. With the help of an outside investigator, Dooley — the chair of the Committee on Health Services at the time — found that De La Pena disregarded UC Regent conflict of interest rules and that his behavior “clearly constitutes an improper governmental activity.”
Dooley then gave the report to UC President Janet Napolitano and then Regents Chairman Bruce D. Varner for possible action against De La Pena. However, the regents kept the findings from the public.
ProPublica obtained a copy of the report by contacting UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein in order to determine why the regents kept the report confidential. In an email to ProPublica, Klein replied, “The outcomes of whistleblower investigations are not routinely announced publicly.”
In response to ProPublica’s investigation, De La Pena resigned from the Committee on Health Services in April 2015. Later, De La Pena wrote a resignation letter in which he remarked that he “has serious concerns about the representations contained in the report and the findings,” which he planned to address “at a later time.”
De La Pena wrote to Napolitano and Varner on May 10, 2015, in order to address his concerns. He refuted the investigation’s conclusions, saying that the chief strategy officer for UCLA “personally raised the opportunity of leasing space” to his eye clinics. He also noted that he consulted with UC General Counsel and Vice President Charles F. Robinson and told him that he “did not want to do anything that was wrong or inappropriate under UC’s policies.”
De La Pena blamed former chief executive of the UCLA hospital system David Feinberg in his letter as the individual responsible for the whistleblower complaint. He also wrote that Feinberg had violated UC policy by negotiating a medical deal in September 2014 without the regents’ consent.
“Dr. Feinberg was found in fact to have violated regent policies by signing the UCLA Anthem transaction without authorization,” De La Pena wrote. “This further establishes that my criticism of Dr. Feinberg was entirely justified and that his complaint of retaliation was simply a way of ‘getting even’ with me.”
Dooley’s report also shared concerns raised over De La Pena’s repeated requests for Feinberg to find a way to purchase his clinics without infringing on UC policy. Doheny Eye Institute, a research and treatment center, was considered to be a buyer for De La Pena’s clinics. At the time, the institute was negotiating with UCLA in order to become officially affiliated with the university.
In the report, however, Dooley does not explicitly conclude that De La Pena tried to sell his clinics.
“I find that Regent De La Pena continued to engage in discussions regarding the Doheny deal after Regent De La Pena had been recused from participating in the matter,” he wrote. “I also find that Regent De La Pena continued to pursue alternative scenarios by which Regent De La Pena’s clinics could be turned over to UCLA, up to the time of the January 2014 regents meeting.”
Two weeks ago, the regents released a letter by Varner to Napolitano from June 2015 in which he agreed with De La Pena’s declarations. As of now, De La Pena remains a voting member on the regents board until his term expires in 2018.
The UCSD Guardian contacted both UC Office of the President Media Specialist Kate Moser and Dooley, but neither were able to comment by press time.