The chief financial officer of a health-care firm at the center of the corruption case against Larry Young testified yesterday that he issued checks for the former state senator, altered the amounts to avoid scrutiny by the IRS and taped envelopes of cash to the bottom of an office desk.
Albert St. Hillaire provided jurors in Anne Arundel Circuit Court with a look behind the scenes of what prosecutors say was a not-so-sophisticated bribery scheme that led to the downfall of one of the state's most powerful senators.
St. Hillaire testified that he wrote checks payable to "cash" that were intended for Young, included "LY" and "SLY" on the memo lines to document that the money was for the state senator, and gave the payments to the principal owner of the health-care firm, Dr. Christian Chinwuba.
Prosecutors say Chinwuba then gave the money to Young.
"What would you do with the cash?" assistant state prosecutor A. Thomas Krehely Jr. asked St. Hillaire.
"I would leave it in a place we agreed upon. Sometimes in my office, under my desk, with Scotch tape," he testified.
St. Hillaire's testimony came at the close of the second day of Young's trial on nine counts of bribery, extortion and tax evasion. Young's former political aide, Zachary Powell, also took the stand, telling jurors that he frequently drove Young to meetings with Chinwuba, where prosecutors claim the former senator received the purported payments.
St. Hillaire's testimony commanded the attention of jurors who listened intently to his account of alleged political payoffs.
St. Hillaire presided over the finances of Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc., a radiology firm in Prince George's County with severe financial problems. He told the jury that the owner, Chinwuba, wanted to form a company, PrimeHealth Corp., as a licensed health maintenance organization, and treat patients in the lucrative Medicaid market.
St. Hillaire testified that Chinwuba believed he needed help.
"There was an attempt to build a political presence," he said.
First, the company hired Decatur W. Trotter, then a Democratic state senator from Prince George's County. When Trotter couldn't help, prosecutors say, the company hired Young, who chaired the Senate's health-care subcommittee and oversaw creation of the state's new Medicaid program, HealthChoice.
Young's initials on checks
Beginning in 1995, St. Hillaire told jurors, he was asked by Chinwuba to prepare a series of checks, most of them made payable to cash. He said he issued checks, filled out request forms and sent office workers to the bank. Several of those workers testified yesterday that they were asked often to cash company checks and give the money to St. Hillaire.
"Did you know the reason why you were preparing checks for cash?" Krehely asked St. Hillaire.
"Yes," he said. "They were for Larry Young."
After receiving the cash, St. Hillaire said, he taped the money under his desk or placed it in a safe for Chinwuba to pick up the next day. He said he made notations on the memo lines to account for the money. In addition to "SLY" for "Sen. Larry Young," and "LY" for "Larry Young," St. Hillaire said he also wrote "LYB" or "LBY," references to Young's Baltimore connection.
Dodging federal law
On several occasions, St. Hillaire said, he altered the amounts on the checks to avoid reporting the transactions to the Internal Revenue Service. Under federal law, all transactions of $10,000 or more must be reported because they could be signs of money laundering or other crimes.
Once, St. Hillaire said, he wrote two checks on the same day made out to cash. Both were for $5,000. But he voided one and wrote another for $4,999. He said the money was intended for Young.
At first, "It didn't dawn on me that the checks would be $10,000," St. Hillaire told the jurors. "So, I wrote one for $4,999, which would keep it under $10,000."
Defense lawyers tried to attack his credibility, noting that he tried to obliterate references to Young on the memo lines of checks and then provided the falsified documents to a grand jury investigating Young.
The lawyers also made sure that jurors knew St. Hillaire faced serious criminal charges and that he made a deal to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Defense lawyer Gregg L. Bernstein tried to portray St. Hillaire as a sloppy accountant who presided over the finances of a company that continually bounced checks and kept incomplete and inaccurate records.
Young's defense team contends their client never received money from the health-care company and that corporate officers concocted the corruption tale to cover up possible embezzlement within the company. Several officers besides St. Hillaire received immunity in exchange for their testimony.
Bernstein introduced a series of checks containing supposed references to Young on the memo lines. Most were issued in 1997, a year after prosecutors say the financial arrangement ended. One check was issued in April 1998, three months after Young was expelled from the General Assembly.
St. Hillaire explained that those checks were written on a computer. Because someone had inadvertently neglected to remove the initials from the memo line field, they continued to appear on subsequent checks generated by the computer program, he said.
St. Hillaire also told Bernstein that he made a mistake by trying to alter records to avoid prosecution when accused of a role in a bribery scheme.
"When PrimeHealth got into the news," he said, "I foolishly panicked."
Pub Date: 9/16/99