By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The second day of the hospital fraud trial of Ray Shoemaker of Tupelo and Lee Garner of Batesville began and ended Wednesday with former Panola County Administrator David Chandler under questioning.
The federal trial centers on whether Garner paid bribes to Chandler and whether Shoemaker, then the chief operating officer at the county-owned hospital, accepted bribes to get more nurses hired from Garner’s medical staffing firms.
Chandler said he regularly shuttled invoices and checks between Garner’s and Shoemaker’s offices, charging Garner $5 for every hour that one of his nurses worked for the hospital. The five-figure checks Chandler received, he said, were designated as accounting fees.
Prosecutor Charles Spillers played hidden-camera video of a meeting Chandler set up with Shoemaker, after Chandler began cooperating with the government. Both men questioned whether the other was wired for recording, and Shoemaker insisted that monies he had received from Chandler had been only loans between friends.
Audio of a phone call between Garner and Chandler showed Garner insisting he had never done business with Shoemaker. Garner also told Chandler of his interview by an FBI agent who questioned his paying Chandler to increase his business from a public entity. Garner said he assured the agent that he would pay her $5 an hour for nursing assignments, just as he would anyone who could get him business.
Attorneys for both defendants aimed their cross-examinations at destroying Chandler’s credibility. Their questioning repeatedly reminded jurors of the many people Chandler has admitted betraying, from Panola County supervisors and taxpayers to a county employee he tricked into giving his illegal collection services for the county a legitimate look.
“We know you’re a liar … a thief … an embezzler,” said Steve Farese, an attorney for Shoemaker. “You’re the kind of person who would put your friends and even your wife in jeopardy to protect yourself, right?”
“When I started cooperating with the government … I started telling the truth from that day on,” Chandler answered.
Ronald Dale Michael, an attorney for Garner, said all the charges in Chandler’s 26-count indictment could have netted him 325 years in prison.
“You decided the more you could tell on somebody else, the better on you it would be, right?,” Michael asked.
“I decided to tell the truth,” Chandler replied.
Both defense attorneys caught Chandler in numerous contradictions, from dispute of facts already known to reminders of where he’d already testified on a question whose answer he was claiming not to know on Tuesday.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today with Chandler being questioned again by the prosecution.