Doctor

The surgeon who gave Steve Jobs a new liver - and two more years - faces new questions

December 8, 2013: 12:46 PM ET

Why, a newspaper asks, was Apple's lawyer paying the doctor's taxes and utilities?

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 11.37.58 AM

From the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

FORTUNE -- Dr. James Eason, the Memphis surgeon who performed Steve Jobs' liver transplant in 2009 -- and later bought the Memphis house where Jobs convalesced -- allowed Apple (AAPL) outside counsel to pay his taxes and utilities for nearly two years.

That revelation came at the end of Southern Transplant, Marc Perrusquia's front page story Thursday in the Memphis Commercial Advocate.

Perrusquia's piece paints a vivid picture of the life-saving operation, although it takes most of its details about Jobs from Walter Isaacson biography -- starting the article's first paragraph:

"It was nearly 4 a.m. when Steve Jobs' gleaming private jet finally touched down. The lights at Memphis International Airport cast a halo of fluorescent gold around the $40 million, 15-seat Gulfstream as it completed its 1,800-mile journey from California, an overnight Hail Mary across three time zones."

Even the questions Perrusquia raises about the propriety of the procedure have been asked and answered -- by the doctor himself:

  • How did Jobs move to the top of the transplant line? "[He was] the sickest patient on the waiting list at the time a donor organ became available," Eason said in 2009.
  • If Jobs was so sick (he would die two and a half years later), how did Eason justify giving him a liver? "Following the transplant, he came out with the iPad, and the new iPhone and presented the Cloud," Eason told WMC-TV after Jobs' death. "No telling what else is still in the works that he thought of after that time."

I suppose a similar argument could be made if any other person perceived to be of high value to society -- the President, say -- needed a transplant. But that's all the more reason to keep the financial arrangements squeaky clean.

The fact that Eason paid a bargain price to an Apple-owned shell company for Jobs' two story, 13-room house came out when he was asked about it at a June 2012 hearing.

"It's a fair question," Eason said, assuring local commissioners there was 'absolutely not' any deal cut to secure a liver for Jobs.

Jobs' Memphis home.

Jobs' 13-room Memphis home.

But according to the Commercial Appeal, Eason didn't tell commissioners everything he knew.

"Eason was going through a divorce and moved into the house two years before buying it,"  Perrusquia writes.

"And while he was there, from early summer 2009 until he acquired the deed in May 2011, the utilities and property taxes were paid by [George] Riley, Jobs' San Francisco lawyer.

"Records show Riley, who's worked as Apple's outside counsel, wrote personal checks in 2010 and 2011 totaling $23,585 to cover the property taxes. Riley also used his MasterCard to pay Memphis Light, Gas & Water $8,770 for utilities at the home through 14 payments between May 2010 and May 2011 — again as Dr. Eason lived there before buying the house. Eason put the utilities in his name after he purchased the home on May 5, 2011, records show. Eason said he lived in the home only part-time during the first of those two years as he tried to reconcile with his wife .

"'And then, in 2010, sometime in spring of 2010, I moved in there and stayed there until I purchased the house. And live there now,' he said."

Not the most earth-shaking revelation. But at least one bioethicist, New York University's Arthur Caplan, finds the arrangement "troubling."

"It strikes me as a potential conflict of interest," Caplan told Perrusquia. "It strikes me as straining ethical credulity to have him there saying, 'Well, you know, I just lived here. I was just lucky. And this guy just chose to pay my rent.' "

LINK: Southern Transplant: How Steve Jobs got the liver he needed in Memphis (subscription required). Thanks to Financial Alchemist's Turley Muller for spotting it.

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