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Union County hospital CEO, 5 others arrested in prescription drug sting
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The CEO of Blairsville’s Union General Hospital is one of six suspects accused of being involved with fraudulent prescriptions for painkillers.

District Attorney Jeffrey Langley’s office tells news outlets that CEO Mike Gowder and five others were arrested Wednesday after a nine-month-long investigation. Gowder faces two counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

Police say one of two physicians arrested in the raid, Dr. James Heaton, wrote more than 15,000 fraudulent prescriptions for painkillers for Gowder over a three-year period. Four of Gowder’s family members were among those apprehended. It’s unclear whether the suspects have attorneys.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office made the arrests and arraignment is expected sometime early next week, according to a news release from the hospital’s board of directors.

Gowder has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal review and investigation, according to Jim Williams, vice-chairman of the hospital board.

“The Gowder brothers are longtime community leaders, and their family was instrumental in the founding and growth of Union General Hospital,” according to the statement from the hospital board. “Dr. Jim Heaton is a recent addition to the hospital board, but a longtime area family practitioner, with 29 years practicing medicine.”

The board voted unanimously Thursday to install Lewis Kelley as the interim CEO of the hospital. Kelley has served as a previous administrator at Chatuge Regional Hospital and has extensive experience with Union General and Chatuge Regional Hospital.

“Union General Hospital, the largest private employer in Union County, will continue operations as normal, despite a week of surprising events,” according to the news release.

Union County deputies, North Carolina law enforcement officers and Drug Enforcement Administration agents were all involved in the investigation.