The chief financial officer of a Lanham health care company said yesterday that he used to tape envelopes of cash to the bottom of a desk so his boss could pick up the money and make secret payments to a powerful Maryland senator who has been charged with soliciting bribes to help the company with state regulators.
The testimony from Albert St. Hillaire, the CFO of PrimeHealth Corp., came on the second day of the trial of former senator Larry Young, a once-influential Baltimore Democrat charged with bribery, extortion and filing a false state income tax return. Prosecutors say Young, who was expelled from the Maryland Senate last year, tried to help PrimeHealth win a lucrative state contract to manage care for Medicaid patients.
St. Hillaire said that he drafted checks made payable to cash and had PrimeHealth employees cash them. He would then put the money in an envelope and tape it under a desk in an office at PrimeHealth, where Christian Chinwuba, the company president, would meet with Young after business hours.
Chinwuba, who has been granted immunity from prosecution and is scheduled to testify later this week, ordered St. Hillaire to write the checks. "He would say it's for Mr. Young," St. Hillaire testified.
Young was indicted in December and charged with receiving more than $72,000 and two computers from PrimeHealth.
Many of the checks for cash, prosecutors discovered, were designated with "LY" or "SLY" or "LBY," which St. Hillaire said was his system for keeping track of the money paid to Young. St. Hillaire, who also has been granted immunity, said he kept the check totals under $10,000 so the payments did not have to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service, which tracks large cash transactions.
He also identified in court yesterday a check for $3,119, which paid the American Express credit card bill of Wayne Clarke, who had been a lobbyist for PrimeHealth. A notation on the check read "Toshiba SLY comp," which St. Hillaire said was payment for a laptop computer the company purchased for Young.
On Tuesday, former state senator Decatur W. Trotter testified that Young wanted a consulting contract with PrimeHealth but that Trotter had advised Young it might be a conflict of interest for him. Trotter said Young tore up a proposed contract he wanted to sign with PrimeHealth.
Prosecutors said Young then began demanding cash from Chinwuba, who was desperate to save his declining business.
Young's attorneys argue that Chinwuba and St. Hillaire were instead trying to cover up more than $650,000 in missing cash from the company. Questioning St. Hillaire yesterday, Young attorney Gregg Bernstein noted that the executive had begun cooperating with prosecutors only when insurance regulators began closing in on PrimeHealth. The company has since been put into receivership.
Bernstein questioned St. Hillaire about several company checks with "SL" and "SLY" designations that were issued after Young left the legislature. The executive said the check-writing computer program had put the designations on improperly.
St. Hillaire acknowledged he initially tried to hide the payments to Young, doctoring some of the designations. "I foolishly panicked and tried to cover up and make some of those changes," he said.
CAPTION: Former Maryland state senator Larry Young is charged with receiving more than $72,000 in bribes to try to help PrimeHealth Corp., a Lanham health care company, win a state contract.