Young to get day in court; Former state senator goes on trial tomorrow on corruption charges; 'Vindication is in front of me'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After nearly two years of critical newspaper reports, criminal investigations and charges that he betrayed his public position for personal gain, former state Sen. Larry Young is about to receive his long-repeated request: his day in court.

Tomorrow, Young will go on trial in Anne Arundel County on charges of using his post as an legislator influential in health-care matters to receive more than $72,000 in payments from the owner of a company seeking to become a licensed health-care company in Maryland.

"I'm glad the trial is in front of me and vindication is in front of me," Young said Friday. "The public has heard what the prosecution has to say. Now they're going to hear the rest of the story."

Also Friday, aides to Gov. Parris N. Glendening acknowledged that several administration officials have been subpoenaed to testify in the case, some for the prosecution, some for the defense. They declined to name the officials.

"People in the governor's office have been subpoenaed to testify, but we're not going to say who they are until they are actually called to testify," Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill said.

Sources said two of those subpoenaed are Donna Jacobs, the governor's deputy chief of staff, and former Health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman. Lester Schott, the chief examiner in the Maryland Insurance Administration, also has been called to testify, an agency spokeswoman said.

Several former and current state officials, including Glendening's chief of staff, Major F. Riddick Jr., were summoned this year to testify before the grand jury that indicted Young. Young had lobbied administration officials on behalf of the health-care company at the center of the corruption case.

Young's lawyers filed a motion last week to block testimony by administration officials. His attorneys contend some of Young's legislative conduct is protected under the state Constitution's "speech and debate" clause. Prosecutors, they argued, should not be allowed to use against him during the trial statements Young made while debating health-care measures.

With jury selection set to start tomorrow morning, Young's lawyer, Gregg L. Bernstein, and State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli declined to discuss the highly publicized case that prompted the first expulsion of a politician from the Maryland General Assembly in more than 200 years.

Keys to the case

According to legal experts and a review of court filings, the case will pivot on whether prosecutors can prove that Young corruptly to receive payments from the health-care company. Another key to the case is the credibility of former officers of the company, PrimeHealth Corp., who have been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony against Young.

Dr. Christian Chinwuba, the principal owner of the Lanham based health-care company, is considered to be the most important state witness. He is expected to testify that he provided the payments and two personal computers to Young while Young was helping his company win a health-care license and a lucrative state contract. "He's ready," said Chinwuba's attorney, Leonard L. McCants. "He's going to tell the truth, and he's going to tell the jury what he knows."

Young, a 24-year State House veteran before he was expelled last year, faces nine felony counts stemming from his ties to PrimeHealth and an affiliated company, Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc.

He faces four counts of bribery, four counts of extortion and one count of tax evasion. If convicted, he could receive a maximum 98-year prison term and $40,000 in fines, but he is likely to receive a far less severe sentence if jurors find him guilty. The trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court is expected to last several weeks.

Although the Dec. 14 indictment contains few details about the case, subsequent court filings by prosecutors in response to motions by Young's lawyers provide a clearer picture of the alleged public corruption scheme.

The relationship between Young and Chinwuba began in May 1995, when Young was regarded as one of the most powerful senators in Annapolis. He derived much of his power from the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Health Subcommittee, where he crafted key pieces of health-care legislation and helped set the state's health policy.

Chinwuba wanted to win a license and a contract to treat patients under HealthChoice, a state health-care program. At stake were millions of dollars for Chinwuba and his company, PrimeHealth.

PrimeHealth was created from the financial ruins of Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems, a Prince George's County radiology firm run by Chinwuba. Young once was a paid consultant to DHIS while a legislator, state records show.

Assets transferred

DHIS officers transferred most of the assets of the company to PrimeHealth and left behind a trail of debt and lawsuits. With a shaky foundation, PrimeHealth opened its doors in Washington before branching out to Prince George's County.

Young became one of the biggest boosters of the minority-owned company. When PrimeHealth was having trouble participating in the HealthChoice program, Young organized an effort to delay the program, giving PrimeHealth time to qualify, according to court records.

With Young's assistance, state rules were changed so that the company could operate in Maryland and get a license from the Maryland Insurance Administration and a contract from the state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene to treat patients.

Prosecutors say Chinwuba rewarded Young for his help, paying him $72,493 in 1995 and 1996. Prosecutors allege Young traveled from Annapolis to meet Chinwuba in his Prince George's County office and in Baltimore to pick up the purported payoffs. One meeting was held at a restaurant at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, according to court records.

Those trips and related phone calls from the senator's Annapolis office, prosecutors say, coincide with the dates of the alleged bribes. The prosecutors also say they discovered evidence of another financial arrangement on a personal computer seized from Young's office: draft agreements of two $50,000 loans from Chinwuba to Young.

"This is further proof of Young's intent," prosecutors wrote, "in furtherance of his corrupt scheme to obtain money from Chinwuba."

Prosecutors also allege that Young secured $6,000 in payments from Chinwuba for one of his closest political aides, Zachary Powell. Prosecutors say Powell, who is cooperating with the state, performed little work for the money and drove Young to the meetings to pick up the alleged bribes.

To convict Young of taking bribes and extorting money from Chinwuba, prosecutors must show that the former senator intended to break the law and that he received the payments with the intent of using his influence to help Chinwuba and his health-care company.

Proving intent in criminal court is tricky, legal experts say.

"You can't take a photograph of the inside of someone's mind," said Jervis S. Finney, a former U.S. attorney who led the ethics investigation of Young last year that prompted his expulsion from office on Jan. 16, 1998. "You have to prove intent by the surrounding circumstances."

Such circumstances are often documented by cooperating witnesses, legal experts say.

Since the State Prosecutor's Office began investigating Young last year, several former and current officers of PrimeHealth and Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems have agreed to cooperate with the investigation. They are expected to provide jurors with information that could establish Young's intent at the time of the payments.

Likely defense strategy

Young's lawyers are expected to attack Chinwuba's credibility by trying to introduce highly critical findings concerning PrimeHealth and Chinwuba by the Maryland Insurance Administration. The agency publicly accused Chinwuba of filing a false certification in his license application to the insurance administration.

In a report released in March, the agency concluded that Chinwuba had filed a "demonstrably false and misleading statement." Insurance regulators also said that Chinwuba was "not fit" to own a financial interest in a licensed health maintenance or-ganization. Prosecutors are expected to try to block Young's lawyers from introducing the insurance agency reports.

Chinwuba has countered the claims by filing a $45 million defamation suit against the insurance administration and its commissioner, Steven B. Larsen. Larsen has denied the charges, and the suit is pending.

Chinwuba is expected to be the most important prosecution witness, but other former and current PrimeHealth officers are scheduled to testify to document the alleged payments and, possibly, Young's intentions. They include Edward A. Thomas, president of the company; Albert St. Hillaire, the chief financial officer; and Wayne Clarke, the company's top political lobbyist. Powell, Young's former political aide, is also expected to be an important state witness. Powell could establish Young's intent during the alleged scheme and could testify about the payments prosecutors say Chinwuba provided to Young.

Even with the supporting witnesses, prosecutors could have a difficult time proving Young's state of mind. There is no evidence that they recorded conversations between Young and officers of PrimeHealth. Legal experts say Young could argue that he was lobbying on behalf of PrimeHealth because he wanted a minority-owned company to participate in HealthChoice.

Work for minorities

For years, Young used his influence to increase the number of minorities on public payrolls, working on state contracts and holding positions of political power. While state officials drafted the HealthChoice program, few qualified minority-owned companies tried to participate.

"In a case like this with a politician, a lot of times they are seeking benefits for their constituents, and Larry Young was often seeking benefits for minority contractors," said David B. Irwin, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in defending white-collar cases. "It would be quite appropriate for him to help a minority contractor gain access to a state contract."

Prosecutors will have to convince jurors that Young's lobbying campaign went far beyond customary constituent services. They are expected to focus on whether Young used his influence with members of the Glendening administration and others to benefit a company that then paid him more than $72,000.

One memo shows how far the administration went to aid PrimeHealth. On April 25, 1997, Deputy Health Secretary Barbara Shipnuck complained to Jacobs, the governor's deputy chief of staff, that PrimeHealth had been provided with more assistance than any other company seeking a state contract. Shipnuck warned that further accommodations would violate state and federal laws.

Prosecutors don't have to prove a strict quid pro quo between Young's lobbying activities and the payments, but they will have to demonstrate that Young knew the payments would influence his official conduct and that he used the "color of his office" to extort a benefit from Chinwuba.

"Can the state prove there was a benefit? If they can, what was it for? And if they can prove what it was for, can they prove that it was illegal?" Irwin asked. "They will have to show that what Larry Young did was an intentional act."

Pub Date: 9/12/99

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