Dr. Robert Corkern plea

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Doctor admits to bribing former county official

By Billy Davis

OXFORD—Batesville physician Robert Corkern pleaded guilty to bribery in a court hearing Monday in Oxford before Senior U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clayton Dabbs told Biggers that Corkern had written former Panola County Administrator David Chandler a check for $25,000 in exchange for $400,000 of Panola County funds.  

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Dabbs stated on the record for the court that prosecutors are dismissing three other counts against Corkern.

The court proceeding pulled Corkern from a pending criminal trial that now includes co-defendants Ray Shoemaker and Lee Garner, who are facing federal allegations of a kickback scheme at Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

The prosecution submitted a plea supplement recorded under seal at the end of Monday’s hearing. Although it’s not public, traditionally the supplement includes a promise from the defendant to testify on behalf of the U.S. government.

Corkern faces a maximum 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine for bribing Chandler.

Corkern was arraigned October 11, charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, loan and credit application fraud, and bribery involving federal programs.

Shoemaker and Garner were already headed toward trial for a bribery and kickback scheme when a superseding indictment, unsealed last October, named Corkern as the third co-defendant in a separate criminal investigation.

Federal prosecutors alleged Corkern had conspired with Shoemaker to funnel money from a line of credit that was intended to operate Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville.

The indictment claimed that Corkern diverted $2.8 million from non-profit Physicians and Surgeons Group over two years to for-profit entities he controlled.

Corkern was also accused of bribing Chandler to entice him to transfer $400,000 of county funds to Tri-Lakes.

Dabbs told the court Monday that Corkern originally attempted to bribe Chandler with $5,000 but Chandler insisted on $25,000.

“Did you in fact engage in bribery of Chandler?” Biggers asked Corkern, who was flanked by his attorneys, William Travis and Parker Still.

“Yes, sir,” Corkern replied.

“Did you do everything he (Dabbs) said you did?” Judge Biggers asked again at one point.

“Yes, sir,” the doctor again replied.

At one point the judge also asked Corkern if he was freely admitting his guilt to the court.

“Yes, sir,” Corkern replied.

Chandler has cut his own deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges of mail fraud and embezzlement at a December 14 court hearing at the U.S. Courthouse in Aberdeen.

Chandler is expected to testify against Garner and Shoemaker at the February trial.

Corkern’s attorneys had been seeking a separate trial for their client when they notified the court of a  “change of plea” according to court documents filed January 3.

Answering a question from the judge, Corkern told Biggers he still has his license to practice medicine but was told by the judge he cannot travel beyond North Mississippi.

Travis said Corkern sometimes works outside the state, including in Arkansas, but Biggers told him he must remain in Mississippi as part of the plea agreement.