Lawyers for former state Sen. Larry Young won a key victory yesterday as an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge issued a ruling sharply limiting the testimony of state officials in the bribery and extortion trial of the West Baltimore Democrat.
Judge Joseph F. Manck ruled that state prosecutors could not question state officials about Young's vote on a change in regulations that was crucial to the survival of the health care firm the former legislator has been accused of extorting money from.
The decision came while the jury, which has been hearing the case against Young for more than a week, was out of the courtroom. Young is charged with extorting $72,000 from Christian Chinwuba, the principal owner of PrimeHealth Corp. of Lanham. He also is charged with filing a false tax return.
The jury did hear testimony from Major F. Riddick Jr., the chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening. He said that Young met with him on May 22, 1995, and expressed concern that two unnamed health care firms, one in Prince George's County and the other in Baltimore, be included in a new state health program, called Health Choices.
Riddick, who described Young as the "most frequent" legislative visitor in his office, said the then-senator "felt it was important" that the two firms be included. He said that Young never named the firms but indicated that they were minority-owned. PrimeHealth is minority-owned.
Asked if Young disclosed that at the time of the meeting he had just signed a consulting contract with PrimeHealth, Riddick said, "No." Young, according to previous testimony, subsequently tore up the contract and demanded cash payments from Chinwuba instead. Young denies ever getting the money.
Asked what he would have done if Young had disclosed the consulting agreement, Riddick said, "I probably would have pointed out that he was on both sides of the issue, and maybe 'you want to review your position.' "
The chief of staff testified that he received a memo from Young on their meeting a few days later, but it made no mention of the two health care firms. Riddick said Young was accompanied at the meeting by investment banker Nathan Chapman.
Riddick's abbreviated testimony was preceded by appearances from other state officials. Under Manck's ruling, state Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli was barred from questioning the officials about Young's vote in a legislative committee on the rules change that was sought by PrimeHealth.
Under that regulation, health maintenance organizations could not get a contract to sign up Medicaid recipients unless they already had at least 1,000 clients and had been in business for at least a year. Since PrimeHealth had just won its license, it couldn't meet the requirement.
According to testimony, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene petitioned a legislative committee to eliminate the requirement, but the panel rejected the request in July 1995. The agency resubmitted the request in October and it was approved, thus clearing the way for PrimeHealth to get into the program.
Young's lawyers have argued that Young's vote on the rules change and testimony about his motives for that vote are barred under the speech and debate clauses of the state and federal constitutions. They argued state officials should not be questioned about Young's vote. Manck ultimately agreed.
After the ruling, prosecutors not only abbreviated the questions put to witnesses, but also shortened the witness list. Two final prosecution witnesses are expected to testify today.
Joseph Millstone, Medicaid policy director in the state health department, testified that he got two phone calls from Young about PrimeHealth while his agency was reviewing the firm's application for the HealthChoices program.
In both calls, Millstone said, Young complained that the firm's officers did not feel they were being treated fairly and that the state kept making new demands. He said Young contended the treatment was racially motivated.
Asked if the calls had an effect on the approval of PrimeHealth's application, Millstone said, "It probably speeded it up."
Millstone said he was "outraged" when he showed up for a meeting on an unrelated issue at Young's office and saw PrimeHealth officials in a back room. He said he had just learned at the time that PrimeHealth was facing sanctions from health regulators in the District of Columbia.
Pub Date: 9/23/99