Jury getting bribery case against VanMeter, Smart

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A federal jury is awaiting final arguments from the government and defense in the federal bribery trial of former Deputy Health Commissioner Brent VanMeter and Wewoka nursing owner James R. Smart.

The defense rested Monday afternoon without either defendant taking the stand.

Earlier, the prosecution ended its case by recapping the events that led to VanMeter's arrest after a raid on state Health Department offices last May 2.

During cross-examination, FBI agent Mark Seyler conceded that VanMeter and Smart never used the words "money" or "exchange"

in their conversations on May 2 when the alleged bribe was consummated.

But Seyler said participants in a bribe "very rarely" use explicit terms.

Mack Martin, attorney for VanMeter, presented no witnesses.

Smart's attorney, Burck Bailey, presented five -- including four of Smart's employees and an attorney the defendant retained after his indictment.

U.S. District Judge Ralph B. Thompson denied dismissal motions by defense attorneys after the prosecution rested.

The government alleges that VanMeter solicited a $1,000 bribe from Smart to fix a $50,000 problem the nursing home operator had because of how five of his nursing homes had been certified to receive federal money.

In earlier testimony, witnesses said VanMeter gambled heavily and went to an off-track betting site in Shawnee on May 2, where he made bets before and after meeting with Smart in Wewoka.

A teller at the gambling site said VanMeter bet about $400 after the Smart visit. When VanMeter was arrested at the Health Department late in the afternoon of May 2, he had only $32 on him, Seyler testified.

He said VanMeter had given a $100 bill to his secretary, but it had no identifiable fingerprints on it.

Testimony was presented last week in which Smart on April 17 told VanMeter of his nursing homes' $50,000 financial problem and VanMeter replied in a taped conversation: "I'll take 2 percent of that."

The two men then discussed a new certification letter that would be backdated so Smart's homes could qualify for certain government payments.

The government charges that a financial manager at Smart's nursing homes wrote a phony replacement letter with the help of VanMeter asking that a previous certification request for the nursing homes be rescinded.

Because of that previous certification, the nursing homes stood to lose compensation for thousands of procedures to check the insulin count of diabetic patients.

In one tape played to the federal jury, Smart tells VanMeter that he had "half the package" ready for VanMeter to pick up and he would get his brother to supply the other half.

The word "money" was not used in the conversation, nor in May 2 conversations when VanMeter went to Wewoka.

The government believes VanMeter was given money by Smart when he gave the nursing home owner a ride to let a house painter into his house in Wewoka.

Bailey called John Hargrave, Smart's former attorney, in an attempt to buttress Bailey's argument that his client was a victim of "bureaucratic bungling."

Hargrave said that his letters to federal regulators seeking to obtain the status of the certification of Smart's homes went unanswered. The letters were sent after a May 17 indictment.

In another development, one of the five women jurors on the trial had a family emergency and was replaced by an alternate.