Closing Arguments in Hospital Retrial Set for Wednesday

Schneider Regional Medical Center. Testimony in the retrial of hospital officials concluded Tuesday. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)
Schneider Regional Medical Center. Testimony in the retrial of hospital officials concluded Tuesday. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)

As the fifth week of testimony came to an end in the trial of three former executives from Schneider Regional Medical Center, closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The judge in the case told the legal teams representing the Justice Department and defendants Rodney Miller, Peter Najawicz and Amos Carty to expect those arguments to last all day.

The jury in the case was sent home around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Carty, a defendant and the last witness in the case, had just finished two days of testimony. He and co-defendant Najawicz made up the roster of defense witnesses after the prosecution rested Thursday afternoon.

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Defense attorneys in criminal cases do not have to present evidence and testimony unless they feel prosecutors failed to meet the burden of evidence they promised to the jury when the case began. Miller, former chief executive officer at the St. Thomas hospital, decided not to take the witness stand.

His lawyer, public defender H. Hannibal O’Bryan, tried to convince Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston, why the charges against his client should be dismissed. He was preceded by lawyer Gordon Rhea, and followed by Robert King, attorney for Najawicz. The team from Justice, led by Assistant Attorney General Quincy McRae, had a chance to tell the judge how they met the delivered the proof through testimony and evidence as promised when opening arguments were heard Oct. 9.

Miller, Najawicz and Carty are accused of racketeering, conspiracy, embezzlement, obtaining money under false pretenses and fraud by certifying officers. McRae matched a lengthy inventory of documents entered into evidence to the individual charges brought against each defendant.

“As far as the conspiracy — it started with the opening of the Scotiabank account. From the opening of that account, without the knowledge of the [hospital] board, they were operating in secrecy. They were paying themselves until they were forced by subpoena to reveal this to the board,” the prosecutor said.

Of the board members called to testify, he said, none of them said they approved either a 2005 contract or a 2007 contract for Miller.

“Their hands were not on them,” McRae said.

And although the agreements bore the signature of board chairman June Adams, no individual board member carries the weight or the authority of the board as a whole, he said.

Hospital board members who served during Miller’s tenure at Schneider hospital include Dorothea Williams, Beverly Chongasing, Natalie Thomas and Frank Jackson.

O’Bryan told the judge his client, Miller, could not be a victim and a participant in a criminal enterprise at the same time. He cast Miller in the role of victim by saying the former chief executive was invited to the Virgin Islands to accept a job, only to be prosecuted for receiving payments over those approved by the government.

Those payments, processed by the Department of Finance, could be found in Miller’s Notice of Personnel Action. There were about 11 personnel at Schneider Regional who were being paid over NOPA, O’Bryan said.

In testimony heard at the start of Week 5, which ended Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte presented evidence that top hospital executives at the territory’s other hospital – the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix – were also being paid in excess of their salary levels, approved by the Division of Personnel. But as she guided the jury through details on the document, an agreement spelling out the additional compensation was noted in the comments section of the NOPA, directing Personnel officials to see the attached compensation agreement.

None of the documents for the three defendants in the ongoing trial carried notations of that kind, Tejo-Sprotte said.

As the lawyer representing Carty laid out the reasons why Dunston should dismiss the charges against his client, attorney Rhea pointed to the letters of direction from Miller to Najawicz.

Those letters told the former chief financial officer to disburse payments of hospital funds through an account set up at the Bank of Nova Scotia into his personal, off-island credit union.

Najawicz, in his testimony, told the court he paid the amounts in part because Carty’s initials appeared there. But the next day, and over the course of two days of testimony, Carty said his initials only indicated that the payments requested corresponded to items appearing in Miller’s contacts.

Rhea also noted that where payment requests referenced educational reimbursements or housing allowances, Carty’s initials did not appear. The defense attorney went on to mention Carty’s efforts to clarify references to a June 21, 2005, contract for Miller.

That date appeared on some letters of direction shown in evidence. Carty said it took extensive searching but he eventually established the June 21 document was an offer letter that spelled out salary, bonuses and perks contained in a May 14, 2005 contract.

One of the charges Rhea asked the court to toss was an embezzlement charge. The charge is connected to a $10,000 salary advance given to Carty when he began serving as the hospital’s legal counsel in the 1990s.

In a series of documents, the prosecution showed how other hospital employees, given similar advances, paid them back. But Carty did not. After Miller came on board as chief executive, he persuaded the board that certain aged accounts should be written off of the hospital books for bookkeeping purposes.

Rhea argued that writing off a debt does not render the debt uncollectible. He supported the claim by citing testimony given by prosecution witnesses working with federal auditors and with the hospital’s financial services wing.

But at no time during the course of the five-week trial did anyone – including Carty – say he ever paid back the money.

Then came a question on cross-examination from Tejo-Sprotte with the defendant on the witness stand. She asked Carty if he ever paid back the $150,000 loan given to him by Miller.

“Not yet,” the defendant said. Tejo-Sprotte noted the loan came from the same Pentagon Credit Union account Miller had Najawicz loaded with hospital money.

King, lawyer for Najawicz, kept his post-trial motion succinct. There was no statement indicating that his client did anything wrong. Because he was never given access to the contracts of his fellow top executives, he disbursed funds as directed by Miller without checking their propriety because Najawicz was prevented from seeing the contracts.

And, King said, his client could not be expected to enforce the contracts if he was not given access to the contracts he was supposed to enforce.

Dunston said he would take the arguments made in the late Tuesday motions hearing under consideration. The judge predicted the case would be handed over for deliberations by Thursday.

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