By Vandana Sinha
WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Tom McMillen was thrust back in the news this week after a second highly publicized law enforcement probe in six months, shocking friends who still remember him as “the All-American boy.”
“He seemed to have everything going for him, and how he could, if it’s true, have fallen from the angels … is an interesting question,” said Bruce Jarvis, a University of Maryland professor who had McMillen for a student in the early 1970s.
“But it may turn out to be nothing. Nobody knows yet,” said Jarvis.
McMillen was arrested in July on charges that he pushed his girlfriend down the stairs. Those charges were later dropped.
This week, federal investigators showed up at the Washington-based medical management company McMillen founded, Complete Wellness Centers Inc., and seized patient billing records and information on insurers. McMillen is chairman and CEO of the company.
In a statement, Complete Wellness Centers confirmed that federal agents arrived with warrants and grand jury subpoenas Tuesday and left with records and computer equipment.
Attorneys for the company did not return repeated phone calls. Federal authorities and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia declined comment.
McMillen refused to comment for this story but friends and former colleagues of the Maryland Democrat had plenty to say, most of it indicating their puzzlement.
“I was shocked, mystified and bewildered to hear about federal agencies swooping down and taking all of those things,” said Jim Lighthizer, who was Anne Arundel County executive when McMillen represented the county in the House.
Associates remember McMillen as a Rhodes Scholar, a basketball star at the University of Maryland and the National Basketball Association and as a member of Congress from 1986 to 1992. They found it hard to square those qualities with the raid on his company’s Capitol Hill headquarters by Defense Department and Postal Service criminal investigation units.
Much of the attention devoted to the two incidents this year, friends said, stems from the past prominence of the man they describe as decent, intelligent and hard-working.
“It comes with the territory. It comes with being in the limelight,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, D-Prince George’s. “When he stumbles, things become headlines.”
Miller called the former congressman a “straight shooter” and the “All-American boy from a small town in Pennsylvania.”
“He’s always been honest with me. He’s always been a very disciplined person on the court and off,” Miller said. “This investigation comes as a shock to his friends.”
Others say he is just having an extended date with misfortune, and he will be cleared with time.
“Some people have good luck. Some people have bad luck. And some people have no luck at all. That’s all I can say about poor old Tom,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kent, who beat McMillen in 1992 when redistricting put both congressmen in the 1st District.
“My guess is Tom may not even know what happened at the company, if they did do anything at all,” said Gilchrest.
Michael Wagner, a former state senator who knew McMillen for about 12 years, said the news gave him “a sick feeling. Because, right or wrong, he (McMillen) made the front page.”
Wagner said McMillen, who also serves as co-chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, would not risk his public standing and popularity to commit fraud.
“I see Tom being ambitious. I think he’d like to be in a Fortune 500 company, be a celebrity and go to nice parties. But I don’t think he’d commit a crime to do it,” Wagner said. “He’s ambitious, he’s not greedy.”
Not everyone is willing to give McMillen the benefit of the doubt over the two incidents, however.
“It makes you stop and think where there’s this kind of activity, something must be wrong,” said Joyce Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
But friends and acquaintances say he deserves to be heard.
“He’s had some bad hair days,” Lighthizer said. “I think we just have to assume that the situation remains to be seen and have a presumption of innocence. He doesn’t need any more of these little deals.”