In a potentially damaging blow to the prosecution, an Anne Arundel County circuit judge threw out the four extortion charges against former state Sen. Larry Young yesterday but left it for a jury to decide five remaining counts of bribery and tax evasion.
"The court is just not convinced that there is enough evidence for a jury to convict on those [extortion] charges," said Judge Joseph P. Manck.
Manck's midafternoon decision came after state Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli presented two final witnesses and Young's lawyers boldly announced that not only would the ex-senator not testify, but they would not bother to offer any defense.
"The defense rests," said Gregg L. Bernstein, a former federal prosecutor.
Shortly afterward, Manck sent the jurors home for the day, scheduling closing arguments and jury instruction for 9 a.m. today.
He told the jurors that all the evidence was in, but he did not tell them that four of the nine charges before them had been jettisoned.
Young, 50, a West Baltimore Democrat, once headed the city's legislative delegation and chaired the state Senate committee that handles health care legislation.
Last year, he was expelled from the state Senate on ethics charges, making him the first senator ousted from that body in more than two centuries.
His indictment on the bribery and extortion charges came in December, after a yearlong investigation by Montanarelli's office.
Asked for comment as he left the courtroom yesterday, Young paused, smiled, and said: "Tomorrow."
Attorneys for both sides declined to comment.
The judge's decision was the second adverse to the prosecution in as many days.
On Wednesday, the judge ruled that prosecutors could not question state officials about Young's vote or possible motives on a key change in state health regulations that figured prominently in the case.
Lack of proof
In rejecting the extortion charges, Manck said he had concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove that Young had used the power of his office to force cash payments totaling $72,000 from Christian Chinwuba, the owner of a Lanham-based health care firm.
Chinwuba owned 81 percent of PrimeHealth Corp, a health maintenance organization that sought and obtained a key change in state regulations, a state license and a lucrative state contract to treat Medicaid patients.
The firm has since been placed in receivership by the Maryland Insurance Administration.
Bernstein had argued that to make the extortion charges stick, prosecutors had to prove that Chinwuba, the combative central figure in the case, feared that Young would take action against him or his health care firm.
No evidence of fear
"Where's the fear?" Bernstein asked, noting Chinwuba's testimony. "There is no evidence of fear. There is no evidence [Young] used his authority or his position to obtain this money."
Prosecutors argued that they need not show fear on Chinwuba's part, but merely show Young's intent.
"Fear's not part of this case," said Assistant State Prosecutor A. Thomas Krehely Jr. "A public official simply does not go to a private individual and ask for money or gifts under these circumstances."
Young, who originally could have received a maximum prison sentence of 98 years, still could get a 50-year sentence if he is convicted on the remaining charges: four counts of bribery and one count of filing a false tax return.
The quick and decisive developments in the case came on the eighth day of a trial that began with jury selection Sept. 13.
Manck's decision followed back-to-back presentations by Bernstein and Krehely, both centering on the two days of testimony from Chinwuba.
Immediately after the prosecution completed its case, Bernstein moved to have all but the tax charge dismissed. He conceded there was sufficient evidence to let that charge go to the jury.
Bernstein cited Chinwuba's testimony as justification for dismissing both the bribery and extortion charges.
Krehely cited other sections of the doctor's testimony to defend the charges.
Manck concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the bribery case to go the jury, but not the extortion charges.
Jurors will be left to grapple with the conflicting testimony of Chinwuba, a Prince George's County radiologist who testified at one point that he gave money to Young because he "had to," but later said his payments to the then-senator did not constitute a bribe.
'I know what bribery is'
"In principle, I know what bribery is. I know what corruption is. My home country is Nigeria. If this man behaved as if it were bribery, I would tell you," Chinwuba testified last week.
Asked whether Young ever promised to do anything for him or his company, Chinwuba answered, "Hell, no."
Chinwuba, however, also testified in his last moments before the jury that he paid the money to Young because of the senator's position.
Asked by Krehely whether he would have paid Young the money if he were "just plain Larry Young and not Senator Young," Chinwuba replied emphatically, "No."
The physician's testimony also will be critical on the tax charge, because he is the only prosecution witness with direct knowledge of the alleged cash payments.
In opening arguments, Bernstein stated that Young denied ever getting the money, but the senator never took the stand to make that assertion.
Two witnesses testified that in early 1996, they heard Chinwuba complain about having to pay Young and other legislators.
Wayne Clarke, the former lobbyist for Chinwuba's company, PrimeHealth Corp., testified that he heard the complaint and that Chinwuba also showed him a document listing the various payments.
In testimony yesterday, Linwood Jennings, Young's accountant for the past decade, testified that the former senator's 1995 tax return showed total income of $129,999, but none of it came from Chinwuba or his companies.
Jennings said the total included $28,288 in income from the state, with nearly all of the balance coming from the American Ambulance and Oxygen Co.
John Draa, an investigator and accountant employed by the state prosecutor, said his analysis of Young's bank accounts showed the senator made unexplained cash deposits of $11,350 between July and December 1995, the same period during which Chinwuba said he was giving Young cash payments.
Draa said that in corresponding periods before and after the six months, there were not comparable cash deposits.