Former PB doctor pleads not guilty to embezzlement

BENTONVILLE — A former Pine Bluff physician, Ruben Tejada, pleaded not guilty last week in Benton County Circuit Court in his arraignment on a felony embezzlement charge of theft of property.

The 55-year-old Tejada, who previously practiced in Pine Bluff and served on the staff of Jefferson Regional Medical Center from June 1996 to December 2005, is accused of taking $27,380 from Northwest Health System, which includes Northwest Medical Hospital facilities in Bentonville and Springdale and Willow Creek’s Women’s Hospital in Johnson.

He and his staff were hired by Northwest Health in February. Authorities said the internal medicine specialist’s employment there ended in August.

The charge against Tejada is a Class B felony with conviction carrying a prison sentence of five to 20 years and a fine of up to $15,000. He was released on his own recognizance, posting no bond, after being arrested and booked on Oct. 31.

According to a Benton County District Court probable-cause affidavit, Bentonville Police Detective Cpl. Mark Jordan said that in the course of investigating the matter, he was told by Northwest Health Vice President Amy Forest that Tejada had admitted to stealing hospital funds.

A Tejada staff member, Maria Araujo, told Northwest Health Human Resources Director Kim Swieter in August that in addition to pocketing cash from self-pay patients, the doctor had ordered that separate books be kept so that he could avoid detection in taking the funds. Tejada also allegedly made threats in the process of taking the money, suggesting that he had organized-crime connections that could be called upon against anyone who might reveal his actions.

Tejada’s next scheduled court case is Feb. 18 for an omnibus hearing.