Young to get day in court

Former state senator goes on trial tomorrow on corruption charges

`Vindication is in front of me'

September 12, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham | Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

After nearly two years of critical newspaper reports, criminal investigations and charges that he betrayed his public position for personal gain, former state Sen. Larry Young is about to receive his long-repeated request: his day in court.

Tomorrow, Young will go on trial in Anne Arundel County on charges of using his post as an legislator influential in health-care matters to receive more than $72,000 in payments from the owner of a company seeking to become a licensed health-care company in Maryland.

"I'm glad the trial is in front of me and vindication is in front of me," Young said Friday. "The public has heard what the prosecution has to say. Now they're going to hear the rest of the story."

Also Friday, aides to Gov. Parris N. Glendening acknowledged that several administration officials have been subpoenaed to testify in the case, some for the prosecution, some for the defense. They declined to name the officials.

"People in the governor's office have been subpoenaed to testify, but we're not going to say who they are until they are actually called to testify," Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill said.

Sources said two of those subpoenaed are Donna Jacobs, the governor's deputy chief of staff, and former Health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman. Lester Schott, the chief examiner in the Maryland Insurance Administration, also has been called to testify, an agency spokeswoman said.

Several former and current state officials, including Glendening's chief of staff, Major F. Riddick Jr., were summoned this year to testify before the grand jury that indicted Young. Young had lobbied administration officials on behalf of the health-care company at the center of the corruption case.

Young's lawyers filed a motion last week to block testimony by administration officials. His attorneys contend some of Young's legislative conduct is protected under the state Constitution's "speech and debate" clause. Prosecutors, they argued, should not be allowed to use against him during the trial statements Young made while debating health-care measures.

With jury selection set to start tomorrow morning, Young's lawyer, Gregg L. Bernstein, and State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli declined to discuss the highly publicized case that prompted the first expulsion of a politician from the Maryland General Assembly in more than 200 years.

Keys to the case

According to legal experts and a review of court filings, the case will pivot on whether prosecutors can prove that Young corruptly to receive payments from the health-care company. Another key to the case is the credibility of former officers of the company, PrimeHealth Corp., who have been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony against Young.

Dr. Christian Chinwuba, the principal owner of the Lanham based health-care company, is considered to be the most important state witness. He is expected to testify that he provided the payments and two personal computers to Young while Young was helping his company win a health-care license and a lucrative state contract. "He's ready," said Chinwuba's attorney, Leonard L. McCants. "He's going to tell the truth, and he's going to tell the jury what he knows."

Young, a 24-year State House veteran before he was expelled last year, faces nine felony counts stemming from his ties to PrimeHealth and an affiliated company, Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc.

He faces four counts of bribery, four counts of extortion and one count of tax evasion. If convicted, he could receive a maximum 98-year prison term and $40,000 in fines, but he is likely to receive a far less severe sentence if jurors find him guilty. The trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court is expected to last several weeks.

Although the Dec. 14 indictment contains few details about the case, subsequent court filings by prosecutors in response to motions by Young's lawyers provide a clearer picture of the alleged public corruption scheme.

The relationship between Young and Chinwuba began in May 1995, when Young was regarded as one of the most powerful senators in Annapolis. He derived much of his power from the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Health Subcommittee, where he crafted key pieces of health-care legislation and helped set the state's health policy.

Chinwuba wanted to win a license and a contract to treat patients under HealthChoice, a state health-care program. At stake were millions of dollars for Chinwuba and his company, PrimeHealth.

PrimeHealth was created from the financial ruins of Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems, a Prince George's County radiology firm run by Chinwuba. Young once was a paid consultant to DHIS while a legislator, state records show.

Assets transferred

DHIS officers transferred most of the assets of the company to PrimeHealth and left behind a trail of debt and lawsuits. With a shaky foundation, PrimeHealth opened its doors in Washington before branching out to Prince George's County.

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