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Crime Doesn't Pay

Originally published in Forum Magazine

Originally published in Volume 21, Number 3 of the Federation Forum Magazine.

Reprinted with permission from the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners Issue 36, Summer 2006.

A license to engage in the practice of a regulated profession is a privilege available only to those who have met specific statutory standards. In North Carolina, the practice of physical therapy has been regulated since 1951. The Physical Therapy Practice Act specifies the qualifications that applicants for licensure must possess, and the Board spends a considerable amount of time reviewing applications for compliance with those requirements.

To a large degree, the Board must rely on the honesty and integrity of the applicant to furnish truthful answers to the questions on the application that determine eligibility for licensure. Unfortunately, from time to time applicants will furnish false or misleading responses to application questions. Fortunately, the Board has mechanisms for confirming whether responses are accurate for some questions, such as requesting the number of times an applicant has taken the examination, whether disciplinary action has been imposed against the applicant in another jurisdiction, or whether past criminal conduct has occurred.

Additionally, NCGS §90-270.29 (1) requires every applicant for licensure to possess “good moral character.” Furnishing false information or failing to furnish relevant information is evidence of the absence of good moral character. The Board is more likely to approve applicants who disclose prior conduct with complete explanations of how their character has been rehabilitated since the conduct occurred than applicants who fail to disclose relevant information that is requested on the application. Whenever there is doubt as to whether particular information is relevant, it is always better for the applicant to provide full disclosure and let the Board make that determination than for the applicant to determine the information is not germane and then suffer the consequences when the Board determines otherwise.

In rare instances, an applicant will submit fraudulent documents in order to induce the Board to issue a license. When discovered, such conduct not only ensures that the application will be denied, but the Board will proceed with criminal prosecution if that is warranted. For example, on July 16, 2004, the Board received an Application for Physical Therapist Licensure from a resident of North Carolina. The application indicated that she had received her MPT in May 2004. The Board also received a Certification of Physical Therapist Education that contained the seal and signature of the director of the program. Based on the information contained in the application, the Applicant was authorized to sit for the examination, which she took on October 6, 2004, but she did not receive a passing grade. The exam was repeated on November 2, 2004, but the results still did not warrant licensure.

In order to assist educational programs to monitor the performance of their graduates on the examination, the programs are furnished with examination scores for their graduates. The Applicant’s scores were furnished to the program from which she had allegedly graduated. On December 14, 2004, the Board was advised by the Managing Director of Examinations for the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (“FSBPT”) that the Applicant was not a graduate of a physical therapy program, and that the program director’s signature and embossed seal on the Certification had been forged. On that same date, the Board advised the Applicant that her eligibility to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination had been revoked.

This matter was referred to the Board’s Investigative Committee which reviewed the application and conduct more thoroughly, including documents from the test site and interviews with the program director and the Applicant. In April 2005, the information that the Investigative Committee had compiled was forwarded to the District Attorney’s Fraud Unit in the Applicant’s home county. After an additional investigation by that unit, including an interview of the Applicant, that agency declined to proceed with prosecution, advising that the case should be prosecuted in Durham County, which is where the application was received.

In October 2005, the Board’s Executive Director, Ben Massey, met personally with the Durham County District Attorney who reviewed the Board’s materials with Mr. Massey. In January 2006, the matter was assigned to an Assistant District Attorney, who contacted Mr. Massey to arrange an interview with an investigator with the Fraud Department of the Durham Police Department. After an additional investigation, the Applicant was eventually served with a summons charging her with (1) a violation of NCGS §14-122.1, a misdemeanor that prohibits the furnishing of fraudulent or forged materials to procure a license, and (2) common law forgery, a felony. The Applicant recently entered a plea that will defer prosecution so long as she satisfies the requirements of her plea, which include 100 hours of community service and supervised probation for 12 months.

Although the Board has learned from this case that the wheels of justice often turn very slowly, the Board feels that its commitment toward prosecution has been justified. The Board has communicated with other licensing boards to advise them of the Applicant’s conduct in North Carolina, and the FSBPT has been kept advised of the Board’s proceedings against the Applicant.

The Board believes that a competent application process is an integral element of preserving the integrity of the practice of physical therapy in North Carolina. Applicants who do not possess good moral character will be denied the opportunity to sit for examination. Applicants who engage in criminal conduct will be referred to the appropriate authorities for criminal prosecution. To do anything less would compromise the Board’s responsibility to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.