Sen. Young `demanded a bribe,' jury is told

But defense says doctor concocted tale to avoid prosecution

September 15, 1999|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

In the first public defense of the corruption case against him, lawyers for former state Sen. Larry Young said yesterday that he never took money from a health care company, but prosecutors contend he picked up envelopes of cash, some taped to the bottom of a desk drawer.

On the opening day of Young's bribery and extortion trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, defense attorney Gregg L. Bernstein told jurors that the owner of the health care company concocted the corruption tale about Young to save himself from prosecution.

He said Dr. Christian Chinwuba lied to state insurance regulators and misled prosecutors before being granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. Bernstein also noted that Chinwuba's firm wrote more than $600,000 worth of checks made out to cash with little or no documentation of where the money went.

"Could he be trying to save himself from prosecution and using the cash for himself?" Bernstein asked the jurors. "His credibility is extremely suspect."

In contrast, prosecutors said Chinwuba frequently paid off Young because of the powerful position he held, enclosing cash in envelopes and taping them to the bottom of an office desk in Prince George's County. They said a political aide to Young drove the former senator to Chinwuba's offices in Lanham to retrieve the purported payoffs.

"He demanded a bribe and he extorted money from Dr. Chinwuba," State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli told the jurors.

Young, a West Baltimore Democrat who was one of the most powerful health care legislators in Annapolis before being expelled last year on ethics charges, is accused of using his office to receive more than $72,000 from the health care company while it was seeking a state Medicaid contract. Young is charged with nine counts of extortion, bribery and tax evasion.

After prosecutors and defense attorneys made their opening statements yesterday, jurors heard from several prosecution witnesses. They included a former state senator who said he warned Young that an arrangement with Chinwuba could be a conflict and an accountant for Chinwuba who said he issued checks made payable to "cash" that were intended for Young.

Prosecutors told jurors that the case began in 1995, when Chinwuba's company -- Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc. -- was in severe financial shape. They said the doctor wanted to turn his radiological firm into a health maintenance organization called PrimeHealth Corp. and needed help winning work in Maryland.

Chinwuba first enlisted then state Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, a Prince George's County Democrat, paying him as a consultant. Trotter, who was having trouble helping the company, said he suggested that Chinwuba meet Young, who chaired a powerful Senate health care subcommittee.

Prosecutors said Young allegedly negotiated a $52,000 consulting contract with Chinwuba.

"I told him to be mindful of the fact that he would have to report his employment to the ethics committee," Trotter said yesterday, testifying against his former colleague of nearly 25 years. "I also told him to be mindful that being chairman of the subcommittee might pose some problems."

Trotter told jurors that Young tore up the consulting contract and vowed not to work for Chinwuba. But prosecutors said Young secretly negotiated a deal with Chinwuba to receive cash payments for helping the company. The prosecutors said Young returned a $12,000 check made payable to him, wrote a letter to Chinwuba declining to work as a consultant, and then began to receive cash payments from the company.

"From that day on, Dr. Chinwuba will tell you, he was getting telephone calls from Larry Young, making arrangements to collect the cash in different amounts," Montanarelli told the jurors.

By the time the alleged consulting arrangement was over in 1996, prosecutors said, Chinwuba had given Young $72,493 and paid an additional $8,000 to the former senator's political aide and personal chauffeur, Zachery Powell.

The accountant who issued many of the alleged payments to Young testified yesterday that he wrote the initials "LY" for Larry Young on the memo lines of the checks to keep track of the money. When a state grand jury subpoenaed those records earlier this year, someone had tried to erase and "white-out" those notations on the checks, according to court records.

Jeffrey Idika, who served as an accountant for Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems for nearly four years before resigning in 1996, was shown a series of checks yesterday. He said he was told by his supervisors that the checks made out to "cash" were intended for Young.

Idika testified that he was ordered to issue one check on Aug. 10, 1995, for $12,000 made payable to "Larry Young." The next day, he said, he was told to void that check and issue another for $10,000, this one made payable to "cash."

The initials "LY" were written on the memo line of the check.

"Do you recognize the handwriting?" Montanarelli asked him.

"It looks like my writing," Idika said.

Pub Date: 9/15/99

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