Ex-senator takes issue with Sun coverage

September 29, 1999|By Gregory Kane

I LAST TALKED with former state Sen. Larry Young by telephone Sept. 16. He was in the studio of WOLB Radio -- and gearing up for the fourth day of his trial. I was in Florida for a news writing and editing seminar, thankful The Sun had arranged things so that I'd miss the ravages of Hurricane Floyd.

Young, on the other hand, had a different view of this paper. It's not that he thinks we're evil. It's more like he sneers at us in disdain and regards this paper as a journalistic Attila the Hun.

The articles about the trial in The Sun weren't fair, Young protested at the time. They focused too much on what the prosecution said and far too little on the cross-examinations by defense attorneys.

I explained that it wasn't a matter of fairness, but of the journalistic practice known as the "inverted pyramid" form of storytelling in which all the important information is put at the top of the story and the least important at the bottom. At this paper, we too often all but genuflect when the phrase "inverted pyramid" is mentioned.

But when I got back to town, I read Scott Higham's and Walter Roche's accounts of the trial. The stories were fairly reported. Higham and Roche really didn't need to present the defense cross-examination. Reading the statements of prosecution witnesses, I knew Young had nothing to worry about when the case was sent to the jury.

On Friday, I was proved right. The jury found Young not guilty of bribery and tax evasion. Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph Manck had dismissed four counts of extortion before the jury began deliberations. You have to wonder if Manck -- after hearing the state's pathetic case -- was sending a message to all who had read or heard about this farce that he didn't want the jury to waste any more time than necessary on this exercise in feckless prosecution.

Here's what prosecutors wanted the jury to believe. They brought on Christian Chinwuba, the head of Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc., to testify that he had paid bribes to Young. What does Chinwuba tell them? Paraphrasing, something like this:

"Young never bribed me, and believe me, being from Nigeria, I know what a bribe is." If it weren't for the existence of Russia, Nigeria would be the bribery capital of the world.

Testimony like that tends to cast reasonable doubts upon the guilt of the defendant. Marylanders aren't considered too bright, but none of us in these parts is stupid enough to convict anyone based on Chinwuba's testimony.

Young was in his WOLB office yesterday afternoon, not quite bristling at the paper's lead editorial about the trial, but close to a state of high dudgeon nonetheless.

"They didn't want to expose the state's case for the weakness that it was," Young said of us at The Sun. The editorial said, in essence, that Young was still a crook even though he had been acquitted. Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, the editorial claimed, had "a significant store of incriminating evidence," a statement that prompted Young to wonder if the editorial writers were in the courtroom.

"Everything they put up, we were able to knock down," Young said. The former senator said his lawyers, led by Gregg Bernstein, were able to show that Chinwuba had his staffers write the incriminating "LY" and "SLY" on checks supposedly made to him in 1998, two years after he had stopped dealing with DHIS.

Chinwuba "told the company to write 'SLY' on the checks after being granted immunity," Young charged. Young's lawyers, the senator claimed, brought up Chinwuba's 1995 tax return, which claimed $12,000 in yearly income when auditors showed he made $675,000 and owned four cars, a condominium and was putting one of his three children through private school. He didn't say it outright, but the ex-senator might have been subtly implying that the state's star witness was an even bigger crook than prosecutors accused Young of being.

The Sun editorial noted that Chinwuba's involvement with Young would have allowed DHIS to become a health maintenance organization and "compete in the lucrative Medicare market."

Young had no problem with that. He's proud of it.

"I'd do it all over again, only not with Chinwuba," Young asserted. When he was in the Senate and Medicaid reform was being debated, Young noticed that "there was no major African-American player at the table, and we're 42 percent of the Medicaid population" statewide.

He and the legislature's black caucus were able to get Total Health Care, a West Baltimore health firm, status as an HMO that enrolled Medicaid patients. The company was soon bought by CareFirst, a Blue Cross/University of Maryland partnership. Young was trying to do the same for DHIS. He said that as of today no African-American health care company with HMO status enrolls Medicaid patients.

"And that's an indictment of that caucus," Young said of black legislators' failure to see that some Medicaid dollars are flowing to a black-owned HMO.

Yesterday's editorial also fretted about Young seeking a return to office. He said he has no such plans. Young intends to write a book. His acquittal was a "public relations coup" for his attorneys' law firm, Young said.

"And after my book comes out, a lot more state legislators are going to be calling them," Young promised.

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