Young got benefits, witnesses testify

Arundel jurors told of free trips, car, $39,000 severance

September 22, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Former state Sen. Larry Young, accused of accepting $72,000 in bribes from a Prince George's County health care company, also got a $39,000 severance payment, a half-dozen free trips and a pricey Lincoln Town Car from a Baltimore ambulance company after resigning his job there, jurors were told yesterday.

Prosecutors used the disclosure of additional payments to Young by American Ambulance and Oxygen Co. in an effort to show to a pattern of conduct by the former legislator.

In the bribery and extortion case before an Anne Arundel County jury, prosecutors say Young tore up a contract with the Prince George's health care company to give the appearance he was uninvolved, yet he continued to demand cash.

At American Ambulance, Young resigned his job but kept getting paid.

"It goes to his way of operating," State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said. "It's part of the concealment."

Young, in his sixth day in court, is facing nine counts of bribery, extortion for allegedly using his office to get cash from Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc. of Prince George's County. Young was expelled from the General Assembly last year on ethics charges.

In addition to the testimony about Young's close financial relationship with American Ambulance, jurors also heard more details about the $72,000 in bribes and a computer Young is charged with extorting from Dr. Christian Chinwuba, owner of Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems.

Prosecutors contend that Chinwuba sought Young's help to win a license as a health maintenance organization and a critical rule change that would allow an affiliated company to be qualified for a lucrative state contract.

Marjorie Boyer, an official of American Ambulance and the daughter of company owner Willie Runyon, testified that Young got the $39,000 severance payment in late 1995, some time after June 23, 1995, when he submitted his letter of resignation from the company.

Young's $793 a week job with American Ambulance, which he had held for four or five years, involved collecting bills from nursing homes and drumming up new business, she said.

Boyer said the company paid $27,893 on Oct. 23, 1995, to purchase a new Lincoln Town Car for the senator, who then was chairman of the Senate committee overseeing all health care legislation. The company also paid for trips to health care conferences across the country, all taken after he had resigned.

Consulting agreement

Last week, testimony showed that Young had a consulting agreement with Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems, but ripped up the agreement when a fellow legislator warned that it could be a conflict of interest. Young, the prosecution has charged, then went back to Chinwuba and demanded payments in cash.

Chinwuba has testified that he subsequently paid Young $72,000 in cash and also, at the senator's insistence, gave a $6,000 consulting contract to Young aide Zachary Powell.

Montanarelli tried yesterday to bring in John E. O'Donnell, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, who he said would testify that Young never reported the gift of the car, the trips or the $72,000 on required financial disclosure statements he filed with the commission.

Young's lawyers pointed out that because the former senator has denied getting the $72,000, there would be no reason for him to report it.

No ethics panel testimony

Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck concluded that the Ethics Commission testimony would be "highly prejudicial," and O'Donnell never made it into the courtroom.

Young's lawyers also charged that prosecutors, in trying to show what Young might have done for the bribes, were eliciting testimony about actions Young took in his role as a legislator. Warning of a mistrial, attorney Steve F. Wrobel said prosecutors "already crossed the line" by mentioning the rule change that was voted on by a legislative committee Young sat on.

"The ball's all teed up," he said.

Wrobel said Young's legislative actions were protected by the speech and debate clause of the state constitution and could not be used as part of the prosecution.

Cross-examination

Earlier in the day, Chinwuba, a radiologist, was questioned closely by Young's other attorney, Gregg Bernstein, on statements the doctor made to prosecutors and the grand jury that indicted Young late last year.

Chinwuba denied repeatedly that he had been coached on his testimony by prosecutors, and accused Bernstein of trying to trick him.

"No, they didn't tell me what the questions were," Chinwuba said. "Nothing like that ever occurred. You want to create a trick for the benefit of the jury."

The Prince George's physician, who also formed a health maintenance organization called PrimeHealth, praised prosecutors, stating, "These gentlemen have kept my faith in the system."

In a final series of questions from the prosecution, Chinwuba was asked if he would have hired Young if he were "just plain Larry Young and not a state senator," Chinwuba answered firmly, "No."

He gave the same answer when asked if he would have hired Powell.

Earlier, Chinwuba had denied the suggestion from Bernstein he was the one who pocketed the $72,000.

In additional testimony, Edward Thomas, president of PrimeHealth, said he overheard Chinwuba complain angrily in early 1996 that he had paid Young $72,000, but the senator was making negative comments about his company.

`I gave him $72,000'

"What does he mean, I didn't help him," Thomas quoted Chinwuba as saying. "I gave him $72,000." Earlier, a former PrimeHealth employee testified that the company purchased a $1,579 personal computer which he delivered and installed at Young's apartment at 601 N. Eutaw St. in Baltimore.

"I was told to deliver it to Senator Young," he said.

John Poliks, an investigator in the prosecutor's office and an employee of the General Assembly, also testified about telephone records that showed a series of calls between Young's office and other phones to PrimeHealth's offices.

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