Chandler recordings

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2012

Chandler recorded associates

By Billy Davis

The federal jury could barely see Ray Shoemaker’s bald head in the video, but you could clearly hear the denial of a bribe in the audio.

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An alleged $12,000 bribe “isn’t enough to go to jail for,” Shoemaker told David Chandler dismissively, when the pair met in a hotel room in Tupelo on July 27, 2010.

Chandler told jurors Wednesday he had asked for the meeting with Shoemaker to record his admittance that he took a $12,000 bribe from Chandler as part of a backroom deal with businessman Lee Garner.
On the tape, Shoemaker explained to Chandler that federal authorities had questioned him about checks Chandler had written to him that totaled $12,000. The then-former Tri-Lakes executive said repeatedly he didn’t know why they were dogging him about the matter.

When Shoemaker said he wouldn’t go to jail for $12,000, Chandler responded, “You are a healthcare professional.”

“I was brought up a whole ‘nother way,” Shoemaker added.

“We should stick with the story that it was a loan?” Chandler asked a few minutes later.

“Hell, that’s what it was,” Shoemaker replied defiantly.

There is the possibility that Shoemaker suspected Chandler was recording them, since news was circulating by then that Chandler was cooperating with federal authorities.

Defense attorney Steve Farese actually raised the possibility Wednesday, asking Chandler sarcastically if the chest-bump hug Shoemaker had given him at the hotel was an attempt to pat him down for a recording advice.

Chandler had apparently mentioned the possibility to federal agents, Farese told the court.

To dismiss the possibility, Farese went on to point out that it had been some time since the two men had met.

“Had he not seen you for a long time?” Farese asked during cross-examination.

“No sir,” Chandler replied.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Spillers played the video and audio recording of Chandler and Shoemaker first, then played audio recordings of Chandler and Garner.

The recordings and a transcript of them were broadcast on TV screens, allowing jurors and attorneys to follow the recordings.

On a telephone call, Garner nervously told Chandler that officials with the USDA had visited him that day.

He described a conversation with an FBI agent in which Garner promised to cooperate and assured her that the nursing business had records that would prove its innocence.

When the agent advised Garner that Chandler was working with him and serving as county administrator, “I told her David didn’t do anything illegal as far as we’re concerned,” Garner said to Chandler.

Among other topics recorded on tape, Chandler and Garner discussed Chandler’s  contractual employment as administrator — a board order provided cover for the hiring, Chandler claimed — and they discussed Shoemaker and the money Chandler had apparently paid him.

Garner seemed surprised  when he learned Chandler had paid the Tri-Lakes executive with a check.

“Is that gonna be called a bribe?” Garner asked at one point during the conversation.

Chandler has testified his payment to Shoemaker was following up on an agreement between Garner and Shoemaker for a kickback.  

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to move past a lengthy conversation initiated by Garner about the Dickie Scruggs scandal. But jurors were able to read Garner’s words on the screen: attorney Tim Balducci had “set everybody else up” instead of simply admitting his crimes.

When the conversation resumed, Garner asked Chandler, “Am I on tape right now?”

“No,” Chandler replied.

“Have they tried to cut a deal with you?” Garner pressed.

“Oh, no,” Chandler replied.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys pointed out that Chandler had failed to get clear admittance of guilt on the recordings.

“Did he admit a bribe?” Farese asked, referring to Shoemaker.

“No,” Chandler replied.

Chandler later testified that he was nervous and was unsure what to ask. He also said FBI agents had failed to tell him what key words to use during the recordings.