Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.
By Steven Tavares.
Alameda Councilmember Stewart Chen responded Thursday to a joint investigation by the East Bay Citizen and The Alamedan published this week detailing a previously undisclosed pair of misdemeanor convictions for insurance fraud from two decades ago.
In the statement, Chen answers questions over why he kept his legal troubles a secret while running twice for public office, along with his reasons for accepting the plea deal rather than fighting it in court.
Chen maintains he was unaware he was part of an insurance fraud scheme during the early 1990s. “The fact is that I unknowingly treated patients who were part of an auto insurance fraud scheme run by a local attorney,” wrote Chen. “I had no idea what they were doing and was not part of their scheme. I assumed the patients were legitimately injured.”
In the article published Wednesday detailing the convictions, Chen said, “I did not do anything wrong. They had nothing on me.”
He blames his naivete as a new chiropractor “barely 30-years-old” for his involvement in the fraud case. “I was naive and lacked the experience to ask proper questions and flag suspicious activities. I was still inexperienced at the administrative and accountability responsibilities in my office,” he wrote.
“But it was my office and I was ultimately responsible. Instead of fighting the unwarranted charges in a prolonged and expensive trial, I agreed – on the advice of counsel – to plead to misdemeanor charges.” Chen also acknowledges the advice given by his attorney to plead to a lesser charge in 1994 was correct at the time. In an interview this week, Chen slammed his former attorney for giving him poor advice.
“At the time, it seemed like the right decision to protect my family and my professional career. I certainly had no reason to believe that such a deal would ever be relevant in my life since it was to be wiped off my record in a short time.”
He now looks at the ordeal in positive terms. “This was a terrible experience for me, but one that helped make me a better doctor and later a good public servant,” said Chen. He later added, “I have been reflecting on this painful episode. I have even thought that maybe I should have been more public about it all along, using it as a lesson to share with Alamedans or other young medical professionals.
“But while that may have spared me from this embarrassment, I decided to focus on the hopes for my family, goals for my career and quality of life of my community. I simply wished to leave this episode in the past.”
However, with Chen’s past coming to light, his path to re-election later this year is less than certain. Two open seats on the City Council, including his and Councilmember Lena Tam’s, who is running for the BART Board of Directors, have not attracted any challengers, as of yet. That may change as potential candidates begin gauging Chen’s new found political vulnerabilities.