Pine Ridge Reservation Hospital Sexual Abuse Scandal Widens
Former Indian Health Services hospital CEO indicted for making false statements to federal investigators in probe of Pine Ridge doctor charged with raping underage patients
Federal prosecutors have filed a criminal indictment against Wehnona Stabler — the former CEO of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s Indian Health Services (IHS) hospital — for making false statements to federal investigators. The statements stem from the investigation that led to the federal indictment of former IHS pediatrician Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber on 10 counts of child sexual assault and rape.
Stabler, the indictment charges, “received a $5,000 gift from Stanley Patrick Weber,” at some point while she was his boss at Pine Ridge Hospital, but did not disclose the gift in a Confidential Financial Disclosure report she filed with the United States Department of Health and Human Services (which runs the Indian Health Services). Stabler was appointed the Deputy CEO of the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, hospital in 2011 and became the CEO shortly thereafter, working in Pine Ridge through 2013, according to federal pay records.
Stabler’s court appearance, originally scheduled for July 7th in Rapid City, South Dakota, is in the process of being re-scheduled. The law Stabler is charged with breaking applies to anyone who “knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact,” by either “fraudulent statement or representation; or…any false writing,” and carries a sentence of up to five years.
Stabler, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska/Iowa, worked in the IHS system for decades before coming to Pine Ridge hospital. She received numerous awards for her work, including a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leader Award in 2007. In 2011 Stabler was named American Indian Woman of the Year by the Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women.
Stabler did not respond to a request for comment, and the US Attorney’s office in Rapid City declined to comment on the case.
Numerous current and former IHS employees say that they routinely reported Weber to hospital administration for behaving inappropriately with young male patients for more than a decade. But, they say, administrators largely ignored and even covered up the accusations, and Weber himself used bribes and intimidation to dodge them. The indictment seems to lend credence to those accusations.
IHS has long claimed that the institution never received any such complaints about Weber. Last year, IHS responded to a Freedom of Information Law request by writing that, “The Great Plains Area Human Resources office searched their files and no records responsive to your request exist.”
Such statements directly contradict interviews with numerous hospital staffers who say they filed complaints, and with members of the Pine Ridge community who say that Weber’s behavior was an “open secret.” Many parents say they refused to let Dr. Weber treat their sons unsupervised.
According to hospital staffers, Weber was suspended and investigated by IHS after he was severely beaten by a patient in 2009. That patient was arrested by tribal police and told investigators that the beating stemmed from his sexual relationship with Weber, which had started when the patient was underage. Yet Weber was quickly re-instated from his suspension and later promoted to acting clinical director of the hospital.
This March, Weber was indicted in federal court on ten counts of child sexual assault and rape. Because Weber is not Native, tribal law enforcement is unable to prosecute him, and state laws do not apply to crimes committed on the reservation, so jurisdiction falls to federal law enforcement. Weber was released after his indictment, and his trial — which was originally scheduled for May — has been delayed numerous times due to court filings by his attorneys.
The charges against hospital administrator Stabler are an important indication that federal investigators and prosecutors are not content to only charge Weber with sexually assaulting patients, but to also go after the administrators who allowed such crimes to allegedly occur on their watch. Because many of the alleged crimes and coverups occurred many years ago, the statute of limitations has run out on many of the potential offenses — such as failure to follow mandatory reporter laws — that administrators could conceivably be charged with. Stabler’s alleged offense came on a disclosure form she filled out in January 2014, still within the five year limit.
Any victims, or those with any information about abusive behavior occurring at IHS or anywhere else, are encouraged to contact the author at (508)333–5763, on Facebook, or at email@example.com. All sources will remain confidential.
The US Attorney’s office can also be reached at (605)342–7822.