By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A federal judge Thursday threw out all guilty verdicts in a hospital kickback-bribery case against Batesville businessman Lee Garner and some against Tupelo’s Ray Shoemaker.
The men were convicted last March in a multimillion-dollar scheme alleging they conspired to boost Garner’s nurse staffing business and pay Shoemaker for his assistance as a key executive at Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville.
Senior U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers said the government was wrong to claim a federal-programs bribery through then-Panola County Administrator David Chandler, whom Garner said he paid to get his own payments in a timely manner, because Chandler was in no position to make staffing decisions to favor Garner, even though Chandler was chairman of the hospital’s board.
Whether the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford will appeal Biggers’ decisions to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals wasn’t known by late Thursday.
In addition to vacating Garner’s four counts, Biggers vacated two of Shoemaker’s 10 guilty verdicts. He also granted them new trials on these counts, plus one more for Shoemaker.
An informed court-watcher said the new-trials decisions may have come in case the acquittals are overruled on appeal.
Shoemaker, former CEO of a Tupelo-based rural health care management company, still faces sentencing on seven counts left standing. He faces substantial prison time and financial penalties.
Attorneys for Garner and Shoemaker declined to comment soon after Biggers’ orders were posted on the federal courts document website.
Garner, Shoemaker and Batesville doctor Robert Corkern were indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2011 on allegations they carried out a conspiracy to wrongly reward Garner and enrich Shoemaker through a kickback-bribery scheme, as well as multiple lies to lending agencies funding Tri-Lakes.
Corkern and Chandler cut plea deals with the government for their cooperation.
Shoemaker still faces prosecution on allegations he embezzled money from the Humphreys County hospital it owned.
Biggers also said that if he hadn’t already thrown out the counts against Garner, the Batesville businessman should be granted a new trial on one of the counts because his constitutional rights were violated repeatedly during the trial.
He said jury instructions on Counts 1-3 were prejudicial to both defendants.