FOX UNDERCOVER (MyFoxBoston.com) -- State boards overseeing licensed workers from chiropractors to electricians are chock full of board members serving years, even decades beyond mandatory term limits, a FOX Undercover investigation has found. When coupled with the fact that some boards hand out little or no discipline, this raises questions about whether the boards are protecting the interests of the public or the interests of their own colleagues.
"I think something is terribly wrong here," said Tim Goodman, who has been battling with the state Board of Registration in Veterinary Medicine over a dispute between his disabled mother and a veterinarian.
That board, which until recently had three members serving beyond the mandatory 5-year term limit, recently investigated his claim that Martha's Vineyard vet Dr. Steven Atwood stole $56,000 in checks over an 8-week period from his mother Jean, an alcoholic also suffering from dementia.
Goodman also sued Dr. Atwood, who in court records defended his taking the checks by saying they 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 vet, 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.
Atwood, who through his attorney declined to comment for this report, isn't just any vet, though. He served as chairman of the Board of Veterinary Medicine until resigning in the wake of an earlier FOX Undercover investigation. He had served on the board from 1994 until resigning last year.
The board did its own investigation but ultimately decided to "close this matter, with no further investigation". One board member, who started on the board at the same time as Atwood, recused himself. But another long-serving member, as well as Dr. Randall Feld, who was seen driving off with Atwood after FOX Undercover tried to interview him, did participate in the review.
"I'm really disappointed, but then I'm even more surprised and dismayed," Goodman said.
Goodman is surprised and dismayed because documents reveal that the board reached the decision in June even though emails show chief board investigator Christopher Carroll was telling Goodman in September – three months later -- that he was still "looking into the matter".
"I'm just sort of appalled and completely shocked to find this out because my follow-up calls with Mr. Carroll indicated quite the opposite…that the case had not been decided, that he had yet to even do his investigation," Goodman said.
Through a spokesperson, Carroll says he told Goodman the investigation was ongoing because he was still looking for evidence against Dr. Atwood even though the case had been officially closed.
A memo written by Carroll says the number one reason the board didn't take action was because Goodman didn't file a complaint.
"Hearing that they're closing it in part because you didn't complain, does that make any sense?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked Goodman.
"I think that's an absolute joke," Goodman replied.
"Do you think the board is protecting one of its own?" Beaudet asked.
"I can't say what they're doing," Goodman replied. "These guys have been obviously working together for quite a while, and what their agenda is I don't know."
"Does it make you question the integrity of all Massachusetts boards?" Beaudet asked.
"It certainly makes you wonder what's going on because it does seem to be a pattern with the boards across the state," Goodman replied.
FOX Undercover asked Mark Kmetz, director of the state Division of Professional Licensure, which oversees all the state boards, about Goodman's complaints.
"So what Dr. Atwood did, taking $56,000 from a woman suffering from dementia, the state thinks that's okay?" Beaudet asked.
"No, the state doesn't have an opinion on that. What's at issue before the board is whether there was sufficient evidence to take action against a licensee," Kmetz replied.
"Are you protecting one of your own?" Beaudet asked.
"No," Kmetz replied.
FOX Undercover found 25 of the 31 state boards under the Division of Professional Licensure have members serving on boards longer than they should be. Six of those boards have handed out discipline fewer than 10 times in the last 5 years.
Board members are not paid but do get reimbursed for travel and meals, which they did for a total of nearly $28,000 in 2013.
Kmetz says there's no connection between discipline and term limits.
"Term limits matter," he said. "The appointment is for a term typically 3 years or 5 years, and we expect members to serve for that term and we do what we can to anticipate upcoming vacancies and to recruit. And if we're not successful in finding someone to step up and donate their time like this, we're happy to have the board members continue."
And continue they do.
The state Board of Certification of Health Officers met this week in Boston. According to state law, members can serve for four-year terms, but this board includes two of the longest-serving state board members in Massachusetts, both of whom were appointed in the 1980s.
Board member Bruce Murphy was appointed in 1988.
"Do you think it could be time for new blood," Beaudet asked him.
"Always looking for new blood to come here," Murphy replied.
His board has disciplined just one person in the last five years, something Murphy says is because his board isn't asked to make disciplinary decisions very often.
"Is this the old boy's network?" Beaudet asked him.
"Not at all," Murphy replied. "I think if you look at the people who've served…there are a couple of us that have served on it over the number of years. But I think you'll see a number of people who have come through, served between two and five years and then moved on."