A civil trial underway in Fresno County Superior Court has all the elements of a feel-good story with a twist: A hardworking Fresno doctor who cares more about his cancer patients than money but resigns after having a falling out with his medical group.
But that group says there is another side to Dr. Michael J. Moffett, former president and chief executive officer of California Cancer Associates for Research and Excellence near Herndon and Cedar avenues in northeast Fresno.
The medical group, widely known as cCare, has accused Moffett, 55, and his administrative assistant, Marie E. Shaffer, 49, of having a romantic relationship and conspiring to commit financial misconduct and cutting a back-door deal with a competitor to financially ruin cCare.
It’s a civil dispute that Moffett says “will get ugly.”
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He’s like ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’
Lawyer Mark M. Scott, who represents cCare
He wasn’t kidding.
“He’s like ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ ” Irving-based lawyer Mark M. Scott, who represents the medical group, told the jury in describing Moffett.
“He’s done a lot of good,” Scott told the jury. “But he’s clever. He’s smart. He had a plan.”
Scott said Moffett paid himself excessive compensation and spent money lavishly on himself and Shaffer. And when the medical group found out, Scott said, Moffett erased phone messages and scrubbed information from his laptop and desk computer.
Moffett, however, says in court papers that cCare made his life miserable and breached his employment contract “when they pushed him out the door.” His Fresno lawyers, Charles Doerksen and Travis Stokes, contend the medical group owes him about $1.15 million in unpaid salary, deferred compensation and for his shares in the company.
The trial in Judge Alan Simpson’s courtroom is expected to take up to two more weeks.
In presenting the doctor’s case, Doerksen didn’t shy from talking about Moffett’s and Shaffer’s romantic affair. “They had worked closely together, and there came a point where both of their marriages were failing and their relationship grew into a friendship,” Doerksen said.
They are now engaged to be married, he told the jury.
Leading the medical group
Founded in 1993 in Fresno, cCare is a group of doctors specializing in providing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for patients diagnosed with cancer.
As chief executive officer and a practicing oncologist, Moffett had exclusive authority to manage the business without requiring approval of shareholders and the board of directors, court records say.
Over the years, he made “a pile of money,” about $1 million a year, Doerksen said. So did the other doctors in the group. But as years passed, Moffett became disillusioned with the way he and the other physicians were earning a living: the more expensive drugs and expensive tests doctors ordered, the more money the doctors made.
“And this had become a problem in cCare,” Doerksen told the jury.
So in 2010, Moffett began searching for how to provide better care for his cancer patients. First, he decided to get educated on the subject. In the summer of 2011, Moffett enrolled in Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in its master of health care delivery science program. The 18-month program allowed him to spend most of his time in Fresno.
The next big step in fulfilling his vision came in 2012. To become a force in the medical world, Moffett believed cCare need to get bigger and have statewide presence, Doerksen told the jury.
In the spring of 2012, the Fresno medical group merged with a group of oncologists in San Diego. But the honeymoon didn’t last long.
Moffett had a falling out with the San Diego group, partly because it wanted to remain independent from the Fresno group, and because “its financial house was not in order,” Doerksen told the jury.
On the witness stand last Thursday, Moffett said he was accused of being a dictator in his leadership style. But he said his sole goal was to protect cCare from financial liability.
Coming to an end
When Moffett took his concerns to cCare’s board of directors and shareholders, they did not support him, so he resigned as the group’s leader. “But he did not resign his employment. He continued to work as a physician for the group,” Doerksen said.
Soon after, the medical group’s board retaliated against Moffett, revoking his computer access, not inviting him to shareholders’ meetings, and terminating Shaffer’s employment after she worked there about 12 years, Doerksen told the jury.
Dr. Moffett gave up. cCare had won. It has pushed him out early.
Attorney Charles Doerksen, who represents Dr. Michael J. Moffett
Fed up, Moffett handed in his resignation as a physician in August 2013. As part of his employment agreement, he was allowed to work 12 months before he left cCare, Doerksen said.
Though he came to work, cCare stopped assigning new patients to Moffett, Doerksen told the jury. He began to receive paychecks that were little more than one-half of his regular pay, the lawyer said.
This was devastating, Doerksen said, because Moffett was paying huge amounts in spousal support to his ex-wife and child support payments. “Finally, on Oct. 25, Dr. Moffett gave up. cCare had won. It has pushed him out early,” Doerksen told the jury.
Scott, however, said Moffett voluntarily resigned in the fall of 2013. He also said cCare learned that Moffett, with the assistance of Shaffer, falsely inflated his income and improperly spent company funds on personal expenses, including college tuition at Dartmouth.
cCare also learned that Moffett was planning to leave as early as June 2013. Behind the scenes, Moffett was teaming up with Community Medical Centers/Sante Health Care Foundation and their affiliates to develop his own oncology practice to compete with cCare, Scott told the jury.
In fact, Scott said, before Moffett resigned from cCare, he already had a $1.2 million grant from Community Medical Centers to start his new business.
“He effectively committed treason,” Scott told the jury.
Doerksen agreed that Moffett was actively exploring his options, but that was because cCare made life unbearable for him to stay.
“He knew that he was leaving and it was just a matter of when, and he needed a place to land,” he told the jury. “Nothing unusual about that.”