Young is acquitted of bribe, tax charges; Prosecutors failed to convince them, jury members say; 'I knew I was innocent'; Former state senator had been accused of using office for gain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Former state Sen. Larry Young was cleared of bribery and tax evasion charges last night, ending a sensational corruption case that began soon after the once-powerful Baltimore Democrat was expelled from the General Assembly last year.

The not-guilty verdicts on four counts of bribery and one count of income tax evasion were announced in quick succession at 6: 05 p.m. at the Anne Arundel County courthouse.

Four accompanying extortion charges were thrown out earlier in the week by the presiding judge, Joseph P. Manck.

Young, who had nervously paced the glass-roofed and marble-tiled courtroom corridors while the jury deliberated, lifted his arms in a sign of victory, then shook clenched fists and hugged his defense team.

A small group of supporters hugged each other as they sat on a bench of the third-floor courtroom.

"Praise the Lord," one of them said.

Fighting back tears, Young stepped to the hallway and pulled out his cell phone to call his 86-year-old mother in Baltimore, as well as his friends and supporters.

"I was acquitted," he declared ecstatically, "of everything."

Later in Baltimore, he told reporters: "I said I was innocent, I never once said otherwise.

"I knew I was innocent, I never once wavered."

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who served as the lead prosecutor in the case, sat stone-faced as the jurors where led from the courtroom.

Members of his trial team slumped in their chairs as the gravity of the jury's verdicts slowly sank in.

Montanarelli said he was "very disappointed." He declined to say anything more.

Case a 'house of cards'

Gregg L. Bernstein, Young's lead defense attorney, said his client "was finally able to put these allegations to a test, and he had an opportunity to confront his accusers." He said the prosecution case "fell down like a house of cards" once it came into the courtroom.

In a risky move, Bernstein decided against presenting a defense after the prosecution team rested its case, which consumed nearly two weeks of testimony from nearly 30 witnesses.

Bernstein said he did not put on a defense because he believed the prosecution never proved its case.

Jurors said after the decision that the prosecutors had not convinced them that Young corruptly intended to use the power and influence of his office to receive cash from a health care company that was seeking work from the state.

In particular, jurors said, they did not believe the testimony of the chief prosecution witness, Dr. Christian Chinwuba, a physician who testified that he paid Young more than $72,000 in cash.

Indicted 10 months ago

The verdict comes nearly 10 months after Young was indicted by an Anne Arundel grand jury on charges of bribery, extortion and filing a false tax return. The grand jury investigation followed Young's expulsion from the Maryland General Assembly on ethics charges on Jan. 16, 1998.

The case against Young centered on his relationship with Chinwuba, a Lanham radiologist who was seeking to turn his struggling radiology firm into a health maintenance organization that could serve state Medicaid patients.

Prosecutors charged that Chinwuba sought Young's help in getting a license, a key rules change from a legislative committee and a state contract.

Along the way, they said, Young received more than $72,000 in cash, two computers and a $6,000 consulting contract for one of his top political aides.

But jurors said they had trouble following the case.

"The state's evidence was not clear," said one juror as she left the courthouse.

"What it came down to was, there was not enough evidence to tell us what was going on," said another juror, Kurk Hess, 38, who owns a Crofton construction firm.

'It just didn't jibe'

Hess said that the state's evidence was "not clear" and there were inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution's key witnesses, including Chinwuba and Albert St. Hillaire, the chief financial officer of the health care company.

"You start to add it up and make sense of it, and it just didn't jibe," he said.

Hess said jurors were concerned that there were "other is- sues going on besides what was happening here" and the jurors weren't being told about them by the prosecution team.

"Some of the things may have occurred, but you can't say he [Young] did it without the evidence to back it up," Hess said. "The state didn't present sufficient evidence to support their case. There were a lot of inconsistencies."

The jurors began their deliberations at 12: 30 p.m. yesterday after a morning-long session of closing arguments from opposing lawyers and final instructions from Manck.

An hour after they began their deliberations, jurors sent a request to the judge for a written copy of the legal instructions he had given them earlier in the day. After the judge conferred with lawyers for both sides, he forwarded the instructions to the jury room.

The jurors made another inquiry relating to the tax evasion count late in the day and only minutes before they returned to the courtroom with the final verdicts.

Some legal setbacks

Even before the jury began the deliberations, the prosecution was dealt two setbacks.

First, Manck ruled that prosecutors could not question state officials about the vote by Young on a rules change that was sought by Chinwuba and his company. The judge also granted a defense motion to dismiss four related extortion charges against Young.

Young, who chaired the state Senate's health care subcommittee before his expulsion, was indicted Dec. 14, 1998, on charges that he extorted the cash from Chinwuba, who headed a company called Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc.

Chinwuba turned the company into a firm called PrimeHealth Corp., which was seeking a state license, a regulatory change and a multimillion-dollar state Medicaid contract.

"This is a public official who took money under the table," Montanarelli told jurors in his closing argument yesterday.

He told the panel that Young's lawyers failed to present any evidence to back up the claim made in opening statements that Young never received money from Chinwuba.

Bernstein raised an immediate objection to Montanarelli's assertion, but after a bench conference, the prosecutor repeated the same statement.

"Mr. Bernstein has presented no evidence that he [Young] didn't receive the money. It's as simple as that," the state prosecutor concluded.

Witness under attack

Bernstein, in his closing argument, attacked the credibility of Chinwuba, the chief prosecution witness, and two other officials of PrimeHealth. All three testified under grants of immunity.

"What are they trying to hide?" asked Bernstein, pointing to a section of the immunity agreements that promised that Montanarelli's office would fight any efforts by other state or federal officials to obtain the information provided by the witnesses in initial meetings with state prosecutors and investigators.

Bernstein hammered away at Chinwuba, the only prosecution witness to testify that he actually gave money to Young, calling his credibility "extremely suspect."

He noted that Chinwuba, when first questioned by prosecutors in 1998, denied making any payments to Young.

Bernstein said Chinwuba, whose company was facing severe financial problems, decided to "kill two birds with one stone," by making up the story that prosecutors wanted to hear and covering up money that had been unaccounted for at the firm.

Phone call link disputed

Bernstein also attacked a prosecution exhibit that attempted to show a link between phone calls from Young's office to Chinwuba's office at about the same time as the alleged payoffs.

Bernstein said that on two days on which calls were made, Young was nowhere near his office. He said the former state senator was in Boston at the time.

Prosecutors countered by repeatedly telling the jurors about the payments -- cash hidden in envelopes and taped to the bottom of a desk in Chinwuba's office.

"When people give out large amounts of money, they expect something in return. That's an inference you can draw," said Assistant State Prosecutor A. Thomas Krehely Jr.

"If you find that he got the money," he added, "the rest will fall into place."

Krehely said a key element of the case was a meeting Young had in 1995 with Major F. Riddick Jr., the chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

No mention of contract

At that meeting, which occurred one week after Young signed a consulting contract with Chinwuba, Young mentioned his concern that a minority-owned company from Prince George's County be included in a new health care program.

Krehely noted Riddick's testi- mony that Young never disclosed his contract during their discussion.

Young's lawyers countered that, shortly after the meeting, Young tore up the consulting contract and returned the payments to Chinwuba.

"He ripped it up and returned the money," Bernstein said. "I don't know why we're even here discussing it."

He also accused prosecutors of going to "great depths" to make a case against Young, calling their efforts "really incredible."

Bernstein also suggested that there could be other reasons for the notation on checks made out to cash that were allegedly earmarked for Young.

Those checks had the initials "LY" or "SLY" written on the memo lines.

Bernstein said "SLY" could be a shortened form of the word "salary." He noted that PrimeHealth, because of its financial problems, often paid some of its employees with cash.

Bernstein told the jurors the "SLY" notation could mean something else: "Somebody Loves You."

Chronology

Dec. 3, 1997: The Sun reports that Larry Young has been using his Senate office to run a private consulting business. His clients include firms seeking state contracts.

Jan. 12, 1998: The legislature's Ethics Committee concludes that Young abused his office and recommends that he be expelled from the state Senate,

Jan. 16, 1998: The state Senate votes to expel Young.

Feb. 7, 1998: A University System of Maryland audit concludes that Young and his consulting agency, LY Group, received tens of thousands of dollars in fees from Coppin State College in violation of state law.

July 2, 1998: Young announces that he will not run for re-election.

Sept. 8, 1998: In response to Young's case and others, a Senate panel agrees to tighten the state's ethics laws.

Dec. 14, 1998: An Anne Arundel County grand jury indicts Young on charges of extortion, bribery and filing a false tax return.

July 28, 1999: The state insurance commissioner decides to auction Prime-Health Corp., a company that allegedly provided Young with bribes, because of an insurmountable $7.2 million deficit.

Sept. 13: The trial begins.

Sept. 23: Judge dismisses four extortion charges.

Sept. 24: An Anne Arundel jury acquits Young on bribery and tax evasion charges.

Pub Date: 9/25/99

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