GALLFLIES are plentiful on planet Earth. There are about 800 species on this continent alone, and another 360 in Europe. They’re tiny critters, barely a quarter of an inch long. But gallflies are easy to spot, thanks to the unique structures where they raise their young. These ‘galls’ can be found on plants and trees. Not just by the curious, but by those with an appetite. Especially by a wasp with a macabre name.
THE CRYPT-KEEPER is only half as big as a gallfly. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in sheer gall. Adult females drill into gallfly nests with a hardened ovipositor and lay a tiny egg on the gallfly larva. Once the egg hatches, it tricks the baby gallfly into chewing an escape hole that’s too small. And then into blocking the opening with its head. Leaving the crypt-keeper to devour the hapless gallfly belly first. Finally exiting by eating through the gallfly’s empty skull. Yum.
ZOOLOGISTS know this behavior as hypermanipulation. Where one parasite controls the behavior of others. There are fungi that turn ants into zombies, hairworms that compel crickets to jump into water and tapeworms that force shrimp to swarm in groups. All to target their hosts. But very few who target other parasites. That’s what sets the crypt-keeper apart.
NOT MUCH is known how the crypt-keeper brainwashes its host — only that it happens. This was discovered just recently and is pretty ingenious when you think about it. One animal tricking another into becoming a time release MRE. Parasites come in all shapes and sizes. From microscopic amoeba to fifty-foot tapeworms. Size matters in this realm. The larger the parasite, the bigger the host. So if anything, large parasites point to abundance.
THE EMERALD TRIANGLE is the land of milk and honey. According to official estimates $40 billion — with a ‘B’ — in tax free marijuana is grown in California these days. Mendocino County is ground zero for that industry. So naturally there are manipulative parasites here — ginormous ones. Starting with the Mendocino Coast District Hospital. Something that’s been playing local taxpayers like a four-dollar banjo for years.
HOSPITALS — like any industry — are transformed by time. A century ago, we had one in the town of Mendocino. As did every mill town on the Mendocino Coast. Highway projects consolidated that into fewer sawmills. And when a sawmill closed, so did the nearby hospital. Everywhere except Fort Bragg. By the year 2000, it was the only area left with such an industry. In fact, it had two saw mills. One just west of the city, and another to the south at Gibney Lane. By 2005, both of them were closed — but not the hospital.
LOSSES MOUNTED at the Fort Bragg hospital after the sawmills closed. Yearly deficits went from $1.3 million in 2001 to $1.8 million in 2005. Instead of closing, MCDH ran a PR campaign to float a parcel tax initiative called ‘Measure R’ to get the difference out of local taxpayers. But thanks to the splendid work of CEO Bryan Ballard, the loss was understated. In 2006, it was found to be $5.6 million. That prompted Ballard’s replacement, a smiley-faced fellow named Ray Hino. Who decided to take advantage of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act and downsize MCDH from 45 beds to a 25 bed Critical Access Hospital. In 2003, legislation was passed that enabled such hospitals to recover 101% of care costs from Uncle Sam. So things should’ve improved at MCDH. But they didn’t.
IN 2012 the Fort Bragg hospital declared bankruptcy to dump millions in debt on creditors. That didn’t work either. By 2015, its losses were still at $4 million plus annually and climbing. Hino was gone by then. He’d been replaced by pencil-pusher Wayne Allen for a couple years. Who was then succeeded by Bob Edwards. A man who MCDH’s recruiters had just gotten out of jail. Seriously. Edwards last gig was running a prison hospital in Stockton. A place known by inmates as ‘Devil’s House.’ But Edwards had another problem behind him.
THE LEGISLATION that’d saved 1,337 Critical Access Hospitals between 1997 and 2003 did so at a cost. Jobs had been traded for patient outcomes. Still worse was a 1% incentive for opportunists to game the system. Not all at once. But like a crypt-keeper wasp does, over time. All the parasites had to do was to brainwash their hosts.
HARVARD figured that out in 2011. With a peer-reviewed study titled, ‘Hospital Closures Had No Measurable Impact On Local Hospitalization Rates Or Mortality Rates, 2003–11.’ Then in 2013, Stanford chimed in with another study titled, ‘Mortality Rates Have Increased at Hospitals in Rural Communities For Certain Conditions Compared to Other Acute Care Hospitals.’ Both studies were widely published and would’ve been impossible for any Critical Access Hospital to miss. Unless they were being brainwashed. Hmmm.
PARASITES ARE GOOD at hiding. One surefire way of finding the business version is through audited financial statements. Not just with spiraling operating losses, but through a line item titled ‘accumulated depreciation’ — something comparable to weight loss in a biological entity. Fifteen years of them tell the tale for MCDH. In 2001 that amount was a little over negative $12 million. By 2016 it was negative $30 million plus. Think about it. You’re in a situation where you’ve lost two-thirds of your body weight. What could be the cause besides a parasite?
THAT TAKES US to the type of parasite. The current administration at MCDH hides its financial statements. The ones I’ve got all came from whistleblowers. It also hides evaluations and insurance applications. That points to a manipulator. So we can’t rule a hypermanipulative parasite out. At least not yet. But even so, MCDH appears to have suffered from a series of parasitic administrators — four of them to be exact. What could they have in common?
CRYPT-KEEPERS are on the menu for even smaller parasites called fairy wasps. Not much is known about them or how they brainwash their winged meals. But seeing them as hypermanipulators helps us to understand how four successive hosts could be programmed to behave the exact same way. Fairy wasps are among the smallest animals alive, but could be targeted by microscopic fungus with the same prime directive. Like cute Russian nesting dolls that devour one another. MCDH has one too. That’s a freeloading outfit called the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. Operated by Charlene McAllister, MCHF gets free rent, free insurance and a free pass from MCDH taxpayers to suffocate the Fort Bragg hospital while it rakes in 65% profits on a yearly bender called Winesong! McAllister joined the MCDH board in 1999 and became president a few years later. But when the Mendocino County Grand Jury investigated in 2006, she fled to the Foundation. McAllister’s Form 990s at that organization don’t track with each other, and its make believe audits have six-figure math errors. 2017 is McAllister’s tenth year as trustee of that scam. And naturally, she’s still the president.
NONPROFIT PARASITES have to watch out for the biggest bloodsucker of them all — the IRS. Needless to say, Uncle Sam is rather fond of his action here in the Emerald Triangle. So he doesn’t take kindly to those who to cheat him. Hell, he even offers a cash reward for information about those who have. And I had just the ticket. Since MCDH has been a nonprofit since 2010, it’s obliged to file Form 990s every year. Something it hasn’t done since — oh, say — 2010. It’s also required to provide members of the public a copy of its nonprofit application on request. Mister Edwards appears to have just been too darned busy for that. So I gave the IRS’s media relations department a jingle the other day, and a very nice agent named Richard C. Sanford answered the phone.
NEWS STORIES for the IRS are handled by Mr. Sanford’s department. Like the one in 2010 where a deranged pilot named Joseph Stack crashed his airplane into a U.S. Treasury building in Austin, Texas. Sanford’s ears perked up when I told him that six years worth of Form 990s hadn’t been filed for a $50 million dollar nonprofit smack dab in the middle of the Emerald Triangle. Even more so when I told him about the $558,707 in grant money that’d vanished at the very same place seven years ago. Could the IRS help with my little parasite problem?
SANFORD was eager to help. ‘You’ll need a Form 4506-A,’ he said. ‘That’ll get you everything the IRS has on file for — what was the name of that nonprofit?’ When I told him, he practically fell over laughing. Then he suggested that I get a Form 211 as well. Why? ‘You could collect a fifteen percent award on whatever the IRS collects,’ he answered. Holy cow! Fifty grand for taking a parasite down? Hook me up!!! So I downloaded both forms, filled them out and sent them to the IRS — with a courtesy copy to Agent Sanford and all my friends at MCDH. Particularly Bob Edwards and his crackerjack assistant, Gayl Moon. Along with all the folks she’d been copying on hospital business. Just in case they had any information on where that suitcase full of untaxed cash might have gone.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, I contacted the media relations department at Health & Human Services in Washington, DC. That’s the agency that issues those grants. Peter Ashkenaz is the press dude there. HHS keeps darned good records of where their money goes — including deposit records. All I needed was access to them. And in particular which bank accounts they wound up in. ‘Ah,’ Peter told me. ‘You need to talk to my buddy Marty Kramer over at HRSA.’ So I collected his email address and dropped him a line with a copy to Mr. Ashkenaz. Once my nickel cleared the mechanism, I pulled the handle and waited for the reels to stop.
PARASITES are good at mimicry. The hapless gallfly’s mama had no idea there were two infants in her cradle. Not to mention the fact that one that was eating the other. So she simply went on about her business. Such was the case with the Fort Bragg hospital. In 2010 somebody created a second entity with a similar name — and then dumped it like a murder weapon. That’s the five-word Mendocino Coast Health Care District. Federal Employer ID #952627981. As opposed to the four-word Mendocino Coast Healthcare District — which has no such number. Could somebody have imitated the hospital to take that grant money? If so, that’d show up on the HHS deposit record.
THE OTHER MYSTERY concerned six years of Form 990s that were supposed to have been filed under that tax number — but never were. Mike Dell’Ara was on the board of directors then, but swore up and down that he’d never seen such a form. That statement flies in the face of Form 990s with what appears to be his presidential signature — under penalty of perjury — on Form 990s for 2002 and 2003 at the Caspar Community. Mike’s a pretty bright guy, so they suggest three possible explanations. That; (a) smart people can be tricked into signing important documents they don’t understand; (b) Form 990s can be forged, or; (c) both. Either way, that casts a shadow on what could’ve happened under Dell’Ara’s watchful eye at the Fort Bragg hospital. Especially in light of IRS penalties for not filing them.
THAT PENALTY runs $20 a day. So — at least according to my math — the Fort Bragg hospital’s current arrearage is $60,000 and climbing. And if the IRS can actually recover that money, I’d be entitled to $9,000 of it. That’s in addition to whatever they get from any grant money that disappeared. Then we’ve got the penalty for failure to provide members of the public with a Form 1023. That runs $20 a day more. Since my first request for that document was made — and documented — on March 24, 2017, that tab is now $1,800. $270 of which might be mine. And because there’s no cap on that penalty, my little investment increases at the rate of $3 a day for doing nothing but feeding off my brand new crypt-keeping host.
PARASITES are equally skilled at exploiting hostage situations. That’s especially true in nonprofits. Where crypt-keepers embed themselves so closely that trying to remove them can jeopardize their nonprofit hosts. Well, the IRS is way ahead of them on that one. According to its Compliance Guide, penalties aren’t taken from charitable assets — but from individuals instead. That was the case in Cars 4 Causes, a Southern California charity whose parasitic managers got nailed for precisely that in 2015. Not by the IRS — but by State Authorities. Who filed a lawsuit to remove all of C4C’s trustees and to fine them individually. In other words, the Fort Bragg hospital isn’t liable for any penalties or reward money that might come my way. But Gayle Moon might be. The same for her unrepentant boss — Bob Edwards. Who — before the IRS came knocking — was the most successful crypt-keeper of them all.
PS: The illustrated version of this article with snarky photo captions and hyperlinks is here: https://tinyurl.com/ya7agkdj