Freeman-Wilson says she has clean hands in drug court, GUEA activities
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent April 26, 2011 6:28PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
GARY — Democratic mayoral frontrunner Karen Freeman-Wilson sat down with the Post-Tribune recently for a pre-primary interview and answered questions posed by the newspaper about her role in a controversial drug addiction treatment program and as attorney for the now-defunct Gary Urban Enterprise Association.
After she left office as attorney general in 2001, Freeman-Wilson became CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, a not-for-profit agency. She steered a trial treatment program for Prometa, a new treatment for cocaine and methamphetamine addiction, to Gary’s Drug Court that she headed for six years until 2000.
According to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Freeman-Wilson in 2006 received $10,000 in campaign contributions from a drug company called Hythiam, for her unsuccessful mayoral campaign in 2007. In 2007, she also joined the board of directors for Hythiam Inc., the company that licensed the Prometa trial.
The company gave her options to buy 100,000 shares of its stock over five years, or about 20,000 shares a year, if she remained on the board. The company also paid her $25,000 in board compensation and travel fees during her tenure on the board, which, according to Freeman-Wilson, ended in December 2008.
Freeman-Wilson said she never exercised her options and a planned speaking tour touting Hythiam never materialized.
Hythiam, which is now called Catasys Inc., was a corporate sponsor for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Freeman-Wilson had just left the presidency of that group at the time of the campaign contribution.
The campaign contribution came months after Freeman-Wilson encouraged her successor in Gary City Court, Deidre Monroe, to be one of the first two trial sites for Hythiam’s Prometa protocol, a cocktail of three FDA-approved drugs designed to reduce cravings to crack cocaine and methamphetamine.
“I understand that’s out there, but it’s not true, and there is no conflict,” she said of introducing the protocol to Gary, blaming her opponents for skewing the facts. “And, even if you accept their argument, any influence would’ve obviously been used to bring something positive to the people of Gary who were addicted to crack cocaine.”
Monroe said she and her staff researched Hythiam and Prometa at the time and welcomed the treatment protocol into the drug court program in November 2005.
Monroe described the protocol as highly successful, saying she wished her court could continue using the Prometa. Hythiam pulled the plug on grant money used to fund the product’s use in Gary in May 2007. At about $10,000 per person to use the drug cocktail, it was cost-prohibitive to use without the company’s financial help, Monroe said.
“The majority of participants did not go back on drugs,” she said.
Monroe said she has not received any campaign contributions or any other compensation from Hythiam.
In 2006, critics claimed Hythiam exaggerated the results it received from trial participants.
Freeman-Wilson said she never used her influence to get Monroe or any other local officials to enrich Hythiam and, in return, to enrich herself.
Freeman-Wilson said she left Hythiam in 2008 when the company decided to move away from the public sector in favor of private clinics.
‘Not involved in corruption’
Freeman-Wilson also deflected criticism about her tenure from 1995 to 2006 as attorney for board of directors of GUEA, a not-for-profit urban renewal organization federal authorities said teemed with theft and corruption at its highest levels.
Officials were convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the GUEA, but Freeman-Wilson insisted her hands, and bank accounts, remained clean.
Freeman-Wilson said the only compensation she ever received from GUEA were attorney fees ranging from $600 per month at the beginning to $750 per month at the end of the contract.
She was not aware of the ongoing theft until news broke in 2004, Freeman-Wilson said.
“People were stealing there and I didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “People don’t ask for advice on stealing. They steal and ask for advice later.”
A board attorney’s job is to help a board with the legalities of overseeing its charges, Freeman-Wilson said.
“Certainly, if the U.S. attorney could have indicted someone who was a city judge and an Indiana attorney general in the GUEA case, you would’ve seen my picture all over the media,” she said.