CHICAGO – For eight nervous months, while her blood pressure rose and her nails thinned, Illinois hospital executive Pamela Davis wore a tiny FBI recording device under her shirt.
She recorded conversations starting in 2003 to document a shakedown scheme that involved hospitals and a state board, kicking off an investigation that eventually reached – and brought down – the state’s highest elected official.
The FBI said Davis’ help was invaluable in an investigation that eventually collected enough evidence to charge and lead to the conviction of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will report to prison today for corruption.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Davis recalled passing her tapes to FBI agents at department store makeup counters – rendezvous sites that she chose to feel a small sense of control and “have a moment I could chuckle at,” she said.
Davis said she’s proud of her role in the FBI’s Operation Board Games investigation, despite the toll it took on her health and personal life.
She said she felt herself grow isolated and suspicious as she led her double life as an FBI informant and the CEO of Edward Hospital and Health Services in Naperville. She still can’t bring herself to go back to the Eggshell Cafe, a suburban Chicago restaurant where she recorded some of the since-convicted schemers explaining how a hospital that wanted a project approved had to play the game.
Davis said she’s glad Blagojevich is going to prison, although she feels sorry for his family.
“I do hold Blagojevich personally responsible for dragging Edward Hospital and me through the sludge of his corrupt administration,” Davis said. “I’m glad he’s going to jail, but I’m sick about all the corruption that has occurred in this state.”
Davis, 63, was the first to blow the whistle on alleged kickbacks involving a state board with the power to approve and deny hospital projects. She contacted the FBI after being warned the board would deny approval of a new medical building unless her hospital used a certain contractor and investment firm.
“I was angry,” she said. “I wanted to do the right thing.”
Davis wore a wire during conversations with people involved in the alleged shakedown to help the FBI gather evidence. She narrowly missed being caught hooking up her recording device when one of her targets unexpectedly greeted her in a parking lot.
She grew fond of her FBI handlers and “felt bereft” when her part in the investigation ended. But five years after it began, she got involved again, albeit briefly. On a morning in December 2008, the FBI called Davis to tell her they were going to arrest Blagojevich.
“They called and said, ‘Pam, we just want to give you a heads-up that very, very early this morning we’ll be going to make an arrest at the governor’s house,’ ” Davis recalled.
“I did get a ... a little bit of a thrill in hearing that,” she said. “I had felt so wronged. I felt health care ... had been so toyed with, that there was a part of me that felt vindicated, that maybe people would understand something terrible had been happening.”
Davis remains president and CEO of the hospital and also seems to have maintained her sense of humor.
“I didn’t like wearing the wire,” she said. “You can’t sing in your car.”