By Errol Castens/Northeast Miss. Daily Journal
OXFORD – Dr. Robert Corkern said he gave in to then-Panola County Administrator David Chandler’s demand for a $25,000 bribe after Chandler threatened to cripple the Batesville hospital, which Corkern said he bought to save.
Corkern was on the stand several hours Friday in the healthcare fraud, bribery and conspiracy trial of businessmen Ray Shoemaker of Tupelo and Lee Garner of Batesville relating to Tri-Lakes Medical Center.
Corkern, an emergency medicine physician, worked at the hospital in 2004 when he heard it was in danger of closing, he said, and started putting together a plan to buy it.
“I believed it could thrive and even become a full comprehensive medical center,” he said on direct questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mims. “We could grow a medical center that would be at least as competitive and as big as the one in Oxford.”
Unable to secure financing as a for-profit venture, Corkern said he accepted an offer to use Shoemaker’s nonprofit, Kaizen Consulting, Management and Research Inc., to make the purchase with government-backed nonprofit financing. Shoemaker was then the hospital’s chief operating officer and later became its chief executive officer.
“I wanted it to be a for-profit entity from the beginning,” Corkern said. “It’s very easy if you are a nonprofit to break some kind of rule that makes it look like you’re enriching yourself from the nonprofit.”
His own guilty plea to bribery may support that statement: Corkern asserted that Chandler told him of hospital-owned money held by the county and offered to transfer it to the cash-strapped hospital. Afterward, he said, Chandler suggested he get a $25,000 payment, growing increasingly adamant about it.
“What he said was, ‘Nothing’s gonna go from here on like you need it to,’” Corkern said. “I believed he could make good on his threat to take the hospital down, and I believe it to this day.”
Prosecutors sought to shore up Chandler’s often contradictory testimony with a host of documents and other people’s testimony that often reinforced the claims of fraud.
For more details from the trial, read Saturday’s Daily Journal.