Grand jury indicts Young on 9 counts Former state senator faces charges of extortion, bribery

On radio, he assails probe

Health care firms allegedly paid out more than $72,000

The Young Indictment

December 15, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham | Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Former state Sen. Larry Young, once one of Maryland's most powerful and promising politicians, was charged in a nine-count bribery and extortion indictment yesterday with using his office to shake down a pair of minority-owned health care companies for more than $72,000.

The indictment was handed up by an Anne Arundel grand jury after a yearlong investigation by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli that included testimony from dozens of witnesses, including the last-minute appearance yesterday of the governor's chief of staff, Major F. Riddick Jr.

The charges against Young are the latest development in a scandal that resulted in his ouster from the Senate, the first such expulsion in more than two centuries in Maryland. The case prompted charges from Young and his supporters that he was being treated unfairly because of his race.

Prosecutors allege that Young received payment in 1995 and 1996 "for the purpose of influencing him in the performance of his official duties." Montanarelli declined to say what tasks Young allegedly performed in exchange for the payments. He said more would be revealed at trial.

The indictment accuses Young of extorting the money from officials of PrimeHealth Corp., a Lanham-based health care firm, and a closely affiliated radiology company, Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems. It also says that Young and a former aide received a series of payments from the two firms.

If convicted, Young could face a maximum 98-year prison term and $40,000 in fines.

Young denounced the indictment last evening during an interview on a local radio station and said prosecutors and The Sun, which first reported Young's business dealings, were out to ruin him.

Said Young: "Did I seek or accept bribes from them? Absolutely not. Did I willfully commit any crime? Absolutely not."

Young's lawyer said his client would fight the charges.

"An indictment is nothing more than an allegation as presented by the prosecutor with no opportunity for the defendant to respond in the grand jury," Gregg L. Bernstein said. "One is never happy when your client is indicted, but we welcome the opportunity to finally have a chance to respond in a court of law, where Senator Young will be able to present his side of these events. We expect the jury will acquit him of all of these counts."

An arrest warrant was issued yesterday for Young, but the former senator will be allowed to voluntarily surrender later this week and be released on his own recognizance.

The six-page indictment lists four counts of extortion, four counts of bribery and one count of tax fraud stemming from the alleged bribery and extortion scheme. It says Young and his aide, Zachary Powell, received $72,493 from PrimeHealth and DHIS. The grand jury also charged that Young illegally received two computers from the companies.

The grand jury alleged that Young, who chaired a key health care committee before he was expelled from the Senate in January, received $52,000 in seven installments, while Powell collected a total of $14,000 under two separate consulting agreements. The indictment says that Young falsely stated on his federal tax return that he had only $129,999 in gross earnings in 1995. The indictment charges Young also falsely listed his 1995 income on his Maryland tax return as $115,955.

Prior to returning the indictment yesterday at 2: 30 p.m., the grand jury heard several hours of testimony from key witnesses, including Riddick, the governor's top aide. Riddick was quietly ushered in and out of a back door of the Anne Arundel Center, where the grand jury was convened.

Asked about Riddick's appearance, Glendening spokesman Ray Feldman referred questions to Andrea Leahy-Fucheck, the governor's chief legal aide. She issued a brief comment stating that neither Riddick nor any other member of the Glendening administration "is or was a target of the investigation."

She said administration officials had voluntarily provided information requested by Montanarelli's office. She said that since the matter "is now in the hands of the court, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Glendening also declined to discuss the indictment.

Montanarelli said Riddick was subpoenaed to testify as a "witness," but he declined to say what Riddick had witnessed or why he was brought before the panel. Young had been a close ally of Glendening and members of his administration before his expulsion. He enlisted the aid of some of them to help PrimeHealth operate as a health maintenance organization in Maryland.

The other witnesses called to testify yesterday were Christian Chinwuba, the founder of PrimeHealth; Wayne Clarke, PrimeHealth's lobbyist and vice president; and Powell, a former Young aide who also worked as a consultant to PrimeHealth.

Powell, Chinwuba and Clarke declined to comment as they left the grand jury room. Powell and Chinwuba had appeared before the same grand jury previously. All three have been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.

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