Garner, Shoemaker on bond

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Defendants free on bond, await federal sentences

By John Howell Sr.

Lee Garner and Ray Shoemaker may yet face lengthy delays before learning their sentences after guilty verdicts were handed down Friday by a U. S. District Court jury for multiple counts in a case involving conspiracy, kickbacks and bribes in a nursing-for-hire scheme from 2005 to 2007 at Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

Shortly after noon Friday, the jury found Shoemaker, 38, guilty on 10 counts and Garner, 67, guilty on four counts of a 12-count indictment.

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Both men are free on bond until they are sentenced, a process that could take months while the U. S. Probation Service develops its recommendation, according to published reports.

Phone calls on Monday to attorneys for Garner and Shoemaker seeking information about possible appeals were not returned.

During the lengthy trial, government attorneys relied heavily on testimony by former Panola County Administrator David Chandler, who was also employed by Garner’s businesses as accountant during the period on which the investigation was focused.

Chandler pleaded guilty in December to unrelated charges of mail fraud and embezzlement in a plea agreement with the U. S. Attorney’s Office. He cooperated with federal authorities during 2010 and 2011 as F.B.I. agents gathered information that led to the indictments against Garner and Shoemaker.

Defense attorneys hammered Chandler during cross-examinations, questioning his credibility in the face of a lengthy sentence in federal prison as the option for his not cooperating. The defense attorneys also attacked the testimony of the federal agents, questioning protocol and eliciting an admission that in some cases during Chandler’s visits with the defendants, normal procedures were not followed.

Former Tri-Lakes administrator Dr. Robert Corkern also testified for the prosecution. In December, Corkern pleaded guilty bribery. On the witness stand Corkern testified that he paid Chandler $25,000 to get Chandler to release to the hospital $400,000 held by the county.

“Chandler said he would take the hospital down, and I believed he could do it,” Corkern testified.

Neither defendant testified during the trial.

Defense witnesses included a forensic auditor and hospital officials who testified that Garner’s nurse staffing service earned Tri-Lakes’ business through its ability to furnish nurses required during periods of high patient census. Chandler claimed that Garner paid him $268,000 to influence nurse staffing from his company.

Shoemaker was also found guilty for having unlawfully received $250,000 in hospital funds as payment for transfer of his non-profit corporation to Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group d/b/a Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

Witnesses called by Shoemaker’s defense attorneys said that payment for the entity was legitimate, a claim with which jurors apparently also disagreed.

The trial, which started February 21, lasted almost 56 hours.

Jurors began deliberations at 4:25 p.m. Thursday and ended at 1:30 Friday.

U. S. Attorneys were Charles W. Spillers, Clayton A. Dabbs and Robert J. Mims.     

Representing Garner were attorneys William B. Kirksey, Ronald D. Michael, John A. Ferrell, Robert S. Addison and Christi R. McCoy.

Shoemaker was represented by attorneys Steven E. Farese, Michael A. Heilman, Christopher T. Graham and Edward T. Polk.