A Scar on the System- the 29 cases

Oct 8, 2017

Albert Fink (Seated, far end) and his attorney consult outside the courtroom in Gibson County.
Credit Steve Burger

The year-long WNIN and Side Effects investigation uncovered a list of cases for which Bloomington psychologist Albert Fink is suspected of possibly falsifying mental evaluations. Local courts have closed the case against Fink. However, after we contacted them, officials with the state's highest court have reached out to the defendants in the suspected cases.

While psychologist Albert Fink was convicted of falsifying a mental evaluation in one criminal case in Vanderburgh County, the year-long WNIN and Side Effects Public Media investigation uncovered a list of 28 additional cases in which it is suspected that Fink may have falsified the evaluations. 

 More than just one case 

Many in  the legal system in Southwest Indiana thought there was more than just one case of a falsified evaluation, but how many more was the big question. During an interview shortly after he filed charges against Fink, Vanderburgh County prosecutor Nick Hermann said they suspected more than a single case was involved.

“The big issue with the case is the doctor’s statement that this has happened multiple times. I do expect that there will be multiple counts filed in the future. At this time, I don’t know how many.”

Vanderburgh chief public defender Steve Owens says they began to notice a pattern as they looked more closely at all of the cases Fink provided evaluations for in local courts.

WNIN obtained the list of 28 other cases in which it is suspected that Albert Fink may have falsified the mental evaluations
Credit Vanderburgh County prosecutor

“There were issues with regards to the time lag between the appointment and the issuance of the report that, in hindsight, would make me wonder if he actually did the evaluation.” 

Was it too quick? “It was much too quick. Three days, five days.”

Other investigators checked jail visitation records and payments made by the county auditor to fill the list of suspected cases that grew to a jaw dropping figure- Over 40 percent of the evaluations Albert Fink performed in Vanderburgh County may have been falsified.

If Hermann suspected several more crimes had been committed, why weren’t more charges filed?

“It’s a difficult thing sometimes to prove that something didn’t happen, as opposed to that it did, because there’s a difference between thinking something might have happened and being able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. There’s a large gap between those two.”

Another factor may be that Albert Fink is 85-years-old and resides in an assisted living facility. Hermann says they wanted to make sure that Fink received a felony conviction, which he did, and that his professional licenses were surrendered, which they have been.  

As of the date of this report however, Albert Fink's license status still shows as "active" in the Indiana Psychology Board's database and no formal filing has been made as yet to revoke Fink's license to practice psychology.

The end of the story?

Both Hermann and Owens did comprehensive reviews of all the suspected cases and decided that for various reasons, the outcomes would not have changed regardless of Fink’s participation.

For Vanderburgh County officials, the case is closed.

But was justice done in the other 28 cases? Is there a greater question of their right to fair treatment than simply to say that the outcome would not have changed?

During the launch of the public phase of this reporting project on WFYI’s No Limits program, former Indiana chief justice Randall Shepard said, 

“We have an entire system and one of the biggest law offices in the state of Indiana, the state public defender is charged with going back and looking for the needles in the haystack...try to find people who not just on these grounds but on other grounds didn’t get a fair trial or didn’t have adequate legal protection.”

Indiana is one of the few states where incarcerated defendants have an automatic right to what is known as post-conviction relief. Their convictions can be reviewed and overturned if some error occurred in their case.

The cases get a new look

Copy of the letter sent to the list of Vanderburgh County defendants whose evaluations may have been falsified
Credit Indiana Public Defender

After Vanderburgh County officials decided not to take further action, we took the question to the chief public defender of the Indiana Supreme Court, who also happens to be named Steve Owens. He knew about the list had been keeping an eye out for defendants who might want to file for post conviction relief. Our call prompted him to take an unusual step of soliciting those defendants whose evaluations may have been falsified by Albert Fink.

“Rarely do we ever reach out to individuals and let them know that this post conviction relief is available. In this case, talked with Judge Mary Willis with the Supreme Court and we decided  that this could be an occasion where we, for lack of a better word, go outside the rules and try to contact the individuals that were affected by this case.”

"A big can of worms"

When we began investigating this case over a year ago, one of the first comments I had from a state-level official was, “This has opened a big can of worms for a lot of people.” However, our investigation also uncovered that the trouble Albert Fink caused for the legal system in Indiana, is actually only the tip of the iceberg of the total damage he may have caused, and on a much wider scale. We’ll talk about that in our next series of reports in the coming weeks. 

WNIN’s Samantha Horton and Isaiah Seibert contributed to our reporting of this series. The WNIN and Side Effects investigation is funded in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, with help from the Doxpop government data service.