Prosecutor says Young met with top state official

Venue for bribery case debated at court hearing

August 21, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli told an Anne Arundel judge yesterday that former state Sen. Larry Young met in Annapolis with an unidentified top state official about the same time the legislator was demanding bribes from the owner of a health care company seeking a state license.

The disclosure, which suggested that Young was trying to wield influence for the health care company, came during a one-hour hearing on whether to have the bribery and extortion charges against the West Baltimore Democrat thrown out or have the case moved to Baltimore.

Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck, who heard the arguments of prosecutors and Young's lawyers, promised a ruling "within a few days."

Young, whose trial is set to begin Sept. 13, was charged late last year with extorting cash payments from Dr. Christian Chinwuba, the majority owner and founder of PrimeHealth, a Lanham-based health maintenance organization that was seeking a state license and a lucrative state contract. Young has also been charged with filing a false tax return.

In arguing that the case belongs in Annapolis, Montanarelli said evidence showed that a series of phone calls were made from Young's Annapolis office to the health care company and that one of Young's aides later drove the senator to meetings with Chinwuba in Prince George's County. Montanarelli said the aide, Zachary Powell, will testify at the trial.

The calls and visits, Montanarelli said, coincided with the cashing of checks and the dates of payments made by Chinwuba to Young. Payments totaled $72,000.

In addition to Young's meetings with Chinwuba, Montanarelli said, there was a meeting about the same time with "a high executive [state] officer."

Montanarelli declined to identify the official after the hearing.

Several administration officials testified before the grand jury that indicted Young last year, including two top former officials of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Major F. Riddick Jr., Gov. Parris N. Glendening's chief of staff.

Young's attorney, Steven F. Wrobel, argued that because the prosecution could not prove that any payments to Young were made in Annapolis, the case should be heard in Baltimore, where Young's former legislative district is.

He said the state is "desperate" to keep the case in Annapolis and is trying to rekindle memories of Young's expulsion from the state General Assembly early last year.

He said the charges had nothing to do with Young's Annapolis duties, such as attending and presiding over committee meetings or voting in the state Senate. The source of Young's authority, Wrobel said, was in the 44th District and the people who elected him.

At one point, Manck asked Wrobel whether he was arguing that Young's only duty was to the residents of the 44th District.

The residents of the 44th District, Wrobel responded, "were the individuals he was empowered to serve."

Wrobel also noted that during the time the alleged bribes were paid, June to September of 1995, the legislature was not in session.

Montanarelli contended that under the state Constitution, Young's primary duties were performed and based in Annapolis. In addition, he said, evidence gathered from the computer in Young's Annapolis office showed drafts of financial agreements between Young and Chinwuba.

Young was present but did not comment during the hearing.

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