msnbc.com news services
updated 12/16/2010 10:03:42 PM ET 2010-12-17T03:03:42

Rhode Island's acting chief medical examiner was placed on administrative leave Thursday as State Police run additional criminal background checks against him.

The move followed reports by The Oklahoman newspaper that Dr. William Cox pleaded guilty 14 years ago to criminal ethics violations in Ohio. He was accused of personally profiting from autopsies while he was coroner there and of hiding the income from authorities.

Cox, 69, pleaded guilty in 1996 to nine misdemeanors, paid $138,000 in restitution, was put on probation, sentenced to 30 days at a halfway house and ordered to perform community service.

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He is believed to be the only candidate for the Oklahoma chief medical examiner position, which pays more than $200,000 a year, The Oklahoman reported.

He has also applied for a permanent job in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reported.

Rhode Island's Health Department spokeswoman said Thursday that Cox had disclosed the conviction, but officials are concerned "that there may be additional past criminal or ethical charges" against him.

Cox, a candidate to become Oklahoma's chief medical examiner, was traveling to Oklahoma for a job interview and could not be reached for comment.

The Rhode Island Department of Health knew that Cox had some ethics violations and had paid restitution, a spokeswoman told the Journal.

"What we didn’t know was the extent of all that information in the news story,” said spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth. “We are gravely concerned about this and we need to look into it and get all of the facts in front of us.”

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She said Cox was no longer a candidate for the permanent Rhode Island job.

Cox started in February as a Rhode Island assistant medical examiner and in August was named interim chief medical examiner.

Cox was jailed in Ohio in 2000 and 2002 for avoiding subpoenas to testify in criminal trials, one for murder and another for drunken driving, according Akron Beaon Journal accounts. One judge called him “an embarrassment to yourself and your profession” while another described him as “an impediment to the administration of justice.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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