Young is acquitted of bribe, tax charges

Prosecutors failed to convince them, jury members say

`I knew I was innocent'

Former state senator had been accused of using office for gain

September 25, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham | Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Former state Sen. Larry Young was cleared of bribery and tax evasion charges last night, ending a sensational corruption case that began soon after the once-powerful Baltimore Democrat was expelled from the General Assembly last year.

The not-guilty verdicts on four counts of bribery and one count of income tax evasion were announced in quick succession at 6: 05 p.m. at the Anne Arundel County courthouse.

Four accompanying extortion charges were thrown out earlier in the week by the presiding judge, Joseph P. Manck.

Young, who had nervously paced the glass-roofed and marble-tiled courtroom corridors while the jury deliberated, lifted his arms in a sign of victory, then shook clenched fists and hugged his defense team.

A small group of supporters hugged each other as they sat on a bench of the third-floor courtroom.

"Praise the Lord," one of them said.

Fighting back tears, Young stepped to the hallway and pulled out his cell phone to call his 86-year-old mother in Baltimore, as well as his friends and supporters.

"I was acquitted," he declared ecstatically, "of everything."

Later in Baltimore, he told reporters: "I said I was innocent, I never once said otherwise.

"I knew I was innocent, I never once wavered."

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who served as the lead prosecutor in the case, sat stone-faced as the jurors where led from the courtroom.

Members of his trial team slumped in their chairs as the gravity of the jury's verdicts slowly sank in.

Montanarelli said he was "very disappointed." He declined to say anything more.

Case a `house of cards'

Gregg L. Bernstein, Young's lead defense attorney, said his client "was finally able to put these allegations to a test, and he had an opportunity to confront his accusers." He said the prosecution case "fell down like a house of cards" once it came into the courtroom.

In a risky move, Bernstein decided against presenting a defense after the prosecution team rested its case, which consumed nearly two weeks of testimony from nearly 30 witnesses.

Bernstein said he did not put on a defense because he believed the prosecution never proved its case.

Jurors said after the decision that the prosecutors had not convinced them that Young corruptly intended to use the power and influence of his office to receive cash from a health care company that was seeking work from the state.

In particular, jurors said, they did not believe the testimony of the chief prosecution witness, Dr. Christian Chinwuba, a physician who testified that he paid Young more than $72,000 in cash.

Indicted 10 months ago

The verdict comes nearly 10 months after Young was indicted by an Anne Arundel grand jury on charges of bribery, extortion and filing a false tax return. The grand jury investigation followed Young's expulsion from the Maryland General Assembly on ethics charges on Jan. 16, 1998.

The case against Young centered on his relationship with Chinwuba, a Lanham radiologist who was seeking to turn his struggling radiology firm into a health maintenance organization that could serve state Medicaid patients.

Prosecutors charged that Chinwuba sought Young's help in getting a license, a key rules change from a legislative committee and a state contract.

Along the way, they said, Young received more than $72,000 in cash, two computers and a $6,000 consulting contract for one of his top political aides.

But jurors said they had trouble following the case.

"The state's evidence was not clear," said one juror as she left the courthouse.

"What it came down to was, there was not enough evidence to tell us what was going on," said another juror, Kurk Hess, 38, who owns a Crofton construction firm.

`It just didn't jibe'

Hess said that the state's evidence was "not clear" and there were inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution's key witnesses, including Chinwuba and Albert St. Hillaire, the chief financial officer of the health care company.

"You start to add it up and make sense of it, and it just didn't jibe," he said.

Hess said jurors were concerned that there were "other is- sues going on besides what was happening here" and the jurors weren't being told about them by the prosecution team.

"Some of the things may have occurred, but you can't say he [Young] did it without the evidence to back it up," Hess said. "The state didn't present sufficient evidence to support their case. There were a lot of inconsistencies."

The jurors began their deliberations at 12: 30 p.m. yesterday after a morning-long session of closing arguments from opposing lawyers and final instructions from Manck.

An hour after they began their deliberations, jurors sent a request to the judge for a written copy of the legal instructions he had given them earlier in the day. After the judge conferred with lawyers for both sides, he forwarded the instructions to the jury room.

The jurors made another inquiry relating to the tax evasion count late in the day and only minutes before they returned to the courtroom with the final verdicts.

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