A popular and well-known Johnson City heart surgeon was arraigned Monday in Washington County Criminal Court on 34 counts of obtaining narcotics by fraud.
Dr. William Walker, 54, lost his job at Johnson City Medical Center earlier this year after the Johnson City Police Department launched an investigation into Walker’s high prescription activity.
Walker, who appeared in court with his attorney, Tom Jessee, pleaded not guilty to the 34 Class D felonies.
He was indicted by a grand jury Nov. 9, but the warrant wasn’t served until Monday. Part of the delay, according to District Attorney General Tony Clark, was because Walker had been in Haiti on a mission trip.
The investigation didn’t stop with Walker. Three JCMC employees on Walker’s surgical team were also fired, but they have not been charged, Clark said.
“He was writing prescriptions to his surgical scrub team. They were getting the prescriptions filled and giving the drugs back to him,” Clark said.
Walker’s alleged scheme dates back to early 2008. Clark said there was no indication during the criminal investigation that any patient care was compromised.
The three employees Walker used to get the drugs were a physician’s assistant, a cardiac nurse and a surgical tech, Clark said.
“They cooperated with us. They basically said he came to them and said he needed them to do this for him,” Clark said.
He did not know why the staffers agreed to fill the prescriptions, Clark said, and the drugs were for Walker’s personal use.
“It wasn’t selling; it was for his personal use,” the DA said.
Walker and the surgical team members also were being investigated by the medical and nursing boards, Clark said.
They had not been charged as of Monday.
During Walker’s appearance in court Monday, Judge Lynn Brown issued a criminal summons, reversing a previous order for a $250,000 bond. The summons allows Walker to report for booking at the Washington County Detention Center within 10 days.
Clark said he disagreed with Brown’s decision.
“If you get indicted on 34 felonies, you should have to post bond,” Clark said. “Most criminal defendants have to post bond. I just think everybody ought to be treated the same.”
Walker is eligible for diversion in the case, which would allow him to have the charges expunged after serving probation. That is a decision only Brown can make.
Walker is scheduled for a plea deadline Jan. 4.
An earlier version of this article described Walker as a cardiologist and chief of cardiology at JCMC. He is a cardiothoracic surgeon.