The state's top veterinarian has resigned after a FOX Undercover investigation revealed a judge raised serious questions about his ethics over a case where he was accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from an alcoholic senior citizen suffering from dementia.
Dr. Steven Atwood, until recently the chair of the Massachusetts Board of Veterinary Medicine, is a prominent animal doctor on Martha's Vineyard. His official biography on an industry group's website lauds his credentials, claiming he even serves as veterinarian for President Barack Obama's family's dog Bo.
"I think if President Obama knew who this guy really was, he probably wouldn't have him as his veterinarian," said Tim Goodman, whose says his elderly mother was taken advantage of by Dr. Atwood.
Atwood was Jean Goodman's long-time veterinarian, taking care of her poodles, Johnny One and then Johnny Two, beginning in the 1980s. But in 2004, her son says Goodman's relationship with Dr. Atwood took an ugly turn. He began making house calls to the 85-year-old's home in West Chop.
"He would show up here very early in the morning. They'd have their alone time here," he said.
Around that time, Dr. Atwood began accepting large checks from his mother despite what Tim Goodman says was his mother's obvious incapacity.
"Heavily drinking. The dementia issues were very strong. She was very delusional. She would tell anyone who walked through the door that she was receiving daily phone calls from the president of the United States. Anybody could pick up on her condition," he said.
Jean Goodman gave checks worth $56,000 over an 8-week period. Two times, she handed over two checks for $10,000 each on the same day.
"I was appalled. I knew my mom was in a defenseless place. I knew she wasn't in very good control of her mental state. And the fact that he was taking advantage of her in this way was just, put yourself in my shoes. I was very angry," Goodman said.
"Do you think Dr. Atwood stole that money from your mother?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked him.
"Absolutely," he replied. "No doubt."
In 2006, Goodman filed a civil suit against Dr. Atwood in Dukes County Superior Court.
In court records, Dr. Atwood claimed the checks were "gifts made in appreciation of his friendship and history of providing veterinary care for Mrs. Goodman's dogs."
The judge ruled in Dr. Atwood's favor in part because Goodman couldn't prove his mother didn't know what she was doing.
But the judge had some tough words for the doctor, writing the case "raises question as to his ethics" and called it "a troubling case, particularly because it should have been apparent to Dr. Atwood... when he personally accepted his first checks from Mrs. Goodman, that this elderly woman was suffering from some sort of mental illness...."
"It is possible to infer that something sinister was afoot when Dr. Atwood was alone with Mrs. Goodman and her checkbook," the judge wrote.
"A judge using language like sinister, that doesn't exactly sound like he's clearing the guy of all wrongdoing?" Beaudet asked Goodman.
"No, I think we're all judged in different ways," Goodman replied.
Dr. Atwood walked away from FOX Undercover's reporter and camera after a board meeting.
"You're a public official, why can't you answer a couple of quick questions, doctor?" Beaudet asked. "We had talked to Jean Goodman's son and he says he believes you don't belong on the board? What would President Obama think of this? You're his vet, apparently?"
"I don't think I can do that," Dr. Atwood replied.
Even Atwood's claim of serving the First Pet is in doubt.
His bio on the National Academies of Practice website says "Dr. Atwood serves as veterinarian for President Barack Obama, appointed by the White House Medical Unit and the United States Secret Service."
A White House official tells FOX Undercover that Dr. Atwood has never treated Bo.
After being asked about the information on the bio, Dr. Atwood's attorney says the vet was cleared by the White House to treat the animal during one of the President's visits to Martha's Vineyard but never actually treated the dog.
As for the allegations about taking the money, Dr. Atwood's lawyer points to the outcome of the lawsuit and says the system worked.
Days after FOX Undercover tried to interview Dr. Atwood, the state asked for his resignation, which he submitted. Through his attorney, Dr. Atwood said he didn't resign because of the Goodman case but because he realized he had been on the board for too long.
Despite a five-year term limit for board members, Atwood had been on the board since his appointment in 1994. The board licenses vets and disciplines them when they do something wrong.
Mark Kmetz, director of the Massachusetts Division of Public Licensure, which oversees all state boards, said he was troubled by the allegations against Dr. Atwood.
"We have begun to look into them. As you know Dr. Atwood has resigned from the board and we hope to resolve the matter as quickly as we can," Kmetz said.
"Why didn't the state know about those allegations?" Beaudet asked.
"I don't know why we didn't. We should have been informed," Kmetz replied.
"Almost 20 years on the board, are term limits a joke?" Beaudet asked.
"No, term limits are not a joke. I think the point of term limits in the statute is to encourage, promote new blood on boards," Kmetz replied.
The state says there are three other complaints against Dr. Atwood. Two were dismissed and a third ended with an advisory letter. But the state still hasn't provided us any details a month after FOX Undercover first requested the complaints.
"Are you trying to keep his past a secret?" Beaudet asked.
"No," Kmetz replied.
"When can we get them?" Beaudet asked.
"When the records are all reviewed," Kmetz replied.
The stonewalling is raising even more questions for Tim Goodman.
"My main concern was that if he would do this to my mom in her condition, then he would do that to someone else?" he said.
Goodman is also questioning whether the board that Dr. Atwood sat on for nearly two decades can fairly investigate the allegations.
Within days of Dr. Atwood receiving his last check from Jean Goodman, the family intervened and ultimately got her into a rehabilitation center where she lived until her death in 2011.
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