By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ray Shoemaker and Lee Garner must wait to learn if they will walk free or not.
Late Thursday, a jury of eight men and four women began deliberations on 12 separate counts accusing them of a kickback-bribery scheme while Shoemaker was a top executive at Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville and Garner held a nursing services contract with the hospital.
Shoemaker, 39, of Tupelo and Garner, 67, of Batesville went on trial Jan. 21. If convicted on all counts, Shoemaker faces up to 145 years in prison and a $5 million fine, and Garner 25 years and a $1 million fine.
A courtroom full of the defendants’ family and friends heard three hours of closing arguments. At times, the defense’s final remarks were heated and accusatory of illegal and improper conduct by prosecutors.
Lead prosecutor Charles Spillers told the jury, “We don’t need county officials and hospital administrators for sale to the highest bidder.”
The government accused Garner of paying $268,000 in bribes to former Panola County Administrator David Chandler, who then allegedly bribed Shoemaker with $12,000 to boost Garner’s nurse-staffing business. Shoemaker also was accused of embezzling $250,000 from the hospital after securing a crucial government-backed operating loan.
Garner’s attorneys countered that the fees to Chandler were a business arrangement to procure nursing work and ensure Garner was paid on time.
Shoemaker’s attorneys insisted Garner used piecemeal payments to their client “to get his hooks” into him as a loan to help Shoemaker maintain two households, one for his family in Tupelo and the other for himself in Batesville. They also said the $250,000 was a reasonable payment agreed upon for use of his nonprofit to secure the emergency operating loan.
Attorneys Steve Farese for Shoemaker and Ronald Michael for Garner told the jury the government’s case was built on half-truths and lies, especially from Chandler.
“They knew they couldn’t get Ray on bribery because Chandler is such a snake,” Farese told the jury. “They knew that, so they come up with this $250,000 charge, which is B.S. He had a thing of value, and he sold it.”
Michael told the jury, “They want you to believe there’s something sinister that Garner agreed to pay Chandler $5 per (nursing) hour. They want you to believe that because he did that, that Chandler went from Garner to Shoemaker to influence him to increase hours. I asked (Chandler) … can you influence one hour? He said, ‘I can’t influence one hour at a nursing station.’”