Former Maryland state senator Larry Young was acquitted yesterday of all the corruption charges against him, clearing a nearly two-year-old cloud hanging over him and possibly renewing the political career of the only Maryland senator ever expelled from office.
After nearly six hours of deliberation, the jury announced that the Baltimore Democrat was not guilty of taking $72,000 in bribes, accepting two computers and arranging a $6,000 payment to an aide to help a Prince George's County health maintenance organization win a state Medicaid contract. They also found he did not file a false state income tax return.
Young, 49, beamed in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courtroom as the verdict was read, hugged his attorneys and reached over the courtroom rail to embrace supporters who crowded behind him.
Outside the courtroom, he said: "I want to thank the jury. I want to thank my attorneys. I want to thank the judge, who I felt all along was fair." On Thursday, Judge Joseph P. Manck had dismissed four counts of extortion, ruling that prosecutors had not presented enough evidence for jurors to consider those charges.
Before leaving the courtroom after the verdict was announced at 6:05 p.m., State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said: "We're very disappointed. That's about all I can say."
Young was indicted in December by an Anne Arundel County grand jury after nearly a year-long investigation by Montanarelli's office. The investigation was prompted by reports in the Baltimore Sun about allegations of conflicts of interest by Young, who was then the powerful chairman of the Senate subcommittee on health issues.
The General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics then investigated Young and determined that he had besmirched his office by taking money from health care companies and a state college and doing little work in exchange. In a historic vote on Jan. 16, 1998, Young became the first Maryland senator ever expelled from office by his colleagues.
His expulsion came after a vote divided largely on racial lines. Young had made an impassioned plea against a political "death penalty" in a Senate chamber packed with people and glaring with television lights. His supporters had marched around the State House that day after a series of rallies in Baltimore. The investigation ignited an ethical fervor during that year's General Assembly session that eventually saw a House delegate resign after allegations that he used his position to win a contract for his insurance business.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said last night that the Senate focused on different allegations in making its decision to expel Young -- not the Medicaid contract or possible tax violations.
"It's different standards," Miller said. "We wish him well."
Young's supporters said the senator, who had been chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus, had been singled out because he is African American. Even after Young's expulsion, the local Democratic organization in his Baltimore district tried to persuade Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) to appoint Young to fill the vacancy his expulsion created. That seat is now held by another popular Baltimore African American, Clarence Mitchell IV (D), but Young remains well liked in his old district.
Asked if he intended to run again, Young said, "All options will be considered."
Young hosts a show on a Baltimore radio station and said he would continue that show for now. He did say he expected to take a short vacation with his 86-year-old mother in a few days.
From the start of the two-week trial, prosecutors appeared to be struggling with a complex case and a key witness -- the owner of the Lanham-based HMO, PrimeHealth Corp. -- whose testimony even one prosecutor acknowledged was not a "model of consistency." Christian Chinwuba, the physician who allegedly paid bribes, was the only person to testify he actually paid money to Young.
Yesterday, one juror said prosecutors simply failed to meet their burden of proving Young's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The state didn't present cohesive evidence of their case," said Kurk Hess, 38, who owns a Crofton construction company. He told reporters outside the courthouse in Annapolis that "there was a lot of inconsistency."
Asked about Chinwuba's testimony, Hess said: "Some of it was questionable. A lot of things just didn't add up."
Chinwuba testified under immunity from prosecution that Young had signed a consulting contract with him and received payment. Within two weeks of that, however, Young tore up the contract and returned $12,000 he had been paid with a certified check.
Several days after that, Chinwuba said, Young called and asked for the money back in cash. Chinwuba testified that he paid Young over several months in 1995 and 1996, each time meeting at PrimeHealth's offices after hours. The cash would sometimes be left for Chinwuba by another company executive who put it in an envelope and taped it under a desk.
"I felt I had to do it," Chinwuba testified. "It's not every day that people in high places come down and ask you to employ them."
When Chinwuba finally stopped paying Young the money, the lawmaker "didn't take it very well," Chinwuba said. "He said I was letting him down and he's in a difficult situation and I should understand that, and I should remember that if I am there for him at this difficult time, he will be there for me. I agreed with him. Charity begins at home. We black people have to stick together."
Chinwuba said he heard later that Young had "blacklisted" him and his company in Annapolis, and he arranged a meeting to make peace but that it did not go well.
But the physician also testified that he never viewed the payments to Young as a bribe. Instead, he said, someone had asked for help and he had responded. The computers were a gift because he was impressed with Young's expertise on health care issues and thought they could help him.
"I would do it again," he said of the money he paid Young.
In his initial meeting with prosecutors, Chinwuba told investigators he never gave Young money. Young's attorney, Gregg Bernstein, told jurors that Chinwuba began cooperating with prosecutors only when PrimeHealth came under the scrutiny of Maryland insurance regulators.
This year, the state placed the company into receivership, citing mismanagement and an audit showing that $650,000 in company funds was missing.
Bernstein said Chinwuba was hiding the money and attempting to blame Young.
"The state's allegations collapsed like a house of cards," said Bernstein, who did not present a defense. Young never took the stand. The jurors never heard his voice. The former senator said last night that he wanted to but that his lawyers told him it wasn't necessary.
Asked what he would have testified, Young said, "I was asking, where's the beef?"