David Chandler trial

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2012

Chandler’s role up in air as Fed jurors gets case

By Billy Davis and John Howell Sr.

The two-week-long federal criminal trial under way in Oxford wrapped up Thursday afternoon after closing arguments consumed most of the day.

Batesville businessman Lee Garner and Ray Shoemaker, former executive at Tri-lakes Medical Center, were charged in a kickback and bribery scheme involving Garner’s nurse staffing business.
Garner and Shoemaker were facing a maximum 25 and 80 years, respectively, in prison if convicted on all counts.

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The jury began deliberations late Thursday with instructions to remain in deliberation until they reach a verdict, which means a verdict could reach the court Thursday night.

Senior U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Sr. is overseeing the trial.

Two weeks of courtroom testimony have revealed what was only hinted in federal indictments: the court trial that began February 21 began with a federal investigation of David Chandler, when he was accused of starting a fee collection business called Absolute Recovery and falsifying overtime pay, both while employed by and overseeing Panola County government.  

At some point Chandler started talking about other dubious ventures, telling federal authorities he had incriminating information on others. He became a confidential source for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and that cooperation led to the indictments of Garner and Shoemaker, and also Batesville physician Robert Corkern and insurance agent Richard Edgerton of Madison.

Chandler’s cooperation could possibly lead to more indictments, as an FBI agent testified this week that Chandler is “assisting in other cases.”  

Federal prosecutors have built their criminal investigation around Chandler, who has proven to be a controversial source for prosecutors and plum target for defense attorneys.

Defense attorneys have reminded jurors of Chandler’s participation in bribery, extortion, and embezzlement as county administrator and as board of trustees chairman at Tri-Lakes, when it was a public hospital and up for sale.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have yet to defend their key witness in front of jurors and Chandler himself repeatedly failed to act conciliatory in front of jurors.

FBI Special Agent Shannon Wright testified Tuesday that Chandler began giving credible information to federal prosecutors in July 2010. She acknowledged that Chandler at first lied to federal investigators but repeatedly claimed under cross-examination that Chandler proved reliable when he began cooperating.

“Did (Chandler) lie to you 25 times?” defense attorney Steve Farese asked Wright.

“I cannot estimate that,” Wright replied.

“Do you deny he has lied to you 25 times?” Farese pressed.

“No,” Wright replied, “I do not deny (he lied) 25 times.”

Pressed about whether she believes Chandler has lied to the jury, Wright replied, “I believe that Mr. Chandler gets confused.”  

After his name was pilloried during hours of testimony, Chandler returned to the third-floor courtroom to testify late Thursday.

The reason: prosecutors admitted to Biggers that they had failed to provide legal documents to the defendants’ small army of attorneys during discovery.

“So, you’re telling me they were never furnished?” the judge asked lead prosecutor Charles Spiller on Tuesday.

 Biggers ordered the documents to be turned over to defense attorneys. He said that he would reserve judgment until later on any action that the omission might require.

With jurors still out during the mid-afternoon recess Tuesday, defense attorneys for both defendants made motions asking the judge to order directed verdicts of not guilty for their clients.

Defense attorney Steve Farese charged that Wright had made a false statement about Shoemaker during her testimony while attorney Robert Addison said that the government had failed to present convincing evidence against Garner.

“The evidence, even in the light most favorable to the government, is so scant that the jury can only speculate on the defendant’s guilt,” Addison said.

U. S. attorney Spillers argued that Garner had told Chandler, who testified for the prosecution, to write “accounting services” on checks alleged to be kickback payments.

“That shows what his intent was,” Spillers said.

Judge Biggers denied motions for directed verdicts of not guilty but allowed defense attorneys one final swing at the federal government’s key witness.

“At this stage, the court is required to accept everything the government puts on as true,” the judge said.

A defense attorney later told The Panolian the unshared documents were FBI reporting documents that were filed after FBI agents debriefed Chandler, who was wearing a recording device, about his contacts.  

The Panolian obtained copies of the FBI documents known as FD-1023, which purport to show a confidential informant was involved in numerous meetings with Batesville businessmen in 2010 in a bid to purchase the long-term acute care beds (LTAC) certificated to Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

It is not clear if Chandler is the informant — known as a “confidential human source” — in the documents, though Wright was grilled about similar documents by defense attorneys Tuesday.

Wright admitted to defense attorney Bill Kirksey that she did not submit an FD-1023 every time she debriefed Chandler, even though she is required to do so by FBI procedures.

Wright said it was a “fair estimate” that she had met with Chandler approximately 11 times but only submitted five of the government reports.

Wright testified she was on a leave of absence from November 2010 until February 2011. She interviewed Chandler three times before the leave and six times after she returned.  

The FD-1023s that were belatedly provided to defense attorneys Thursday were submitted by a second special agent, John Quaka, during the summer of 2010.