Prosecution rests in trial of former Health Department official accused of bribe-taking

Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) --The prosecution rested its federal bribery case against former Deputy Health Commissioner Brent VanMeter Monday by recapping the events that led to his arrest after a raid on state Health Department offices last May.

During cross-examination, FBI agent Mark Seyler conceded that VanMeter and nursing home owner Jim Smart never used the words "money" or "exchange" in their conversations on May 2 when the alleged bribe was consummated.

But Seyler said that during his experiences with white-collar crime, participants in a bribe "very rarely spell them out in explicit terms."

U.S. District Judge Ralph B. Thompson denied dismissal requests by defense attorneys for VanMeter and Smart. Defense witnesses were expected to begin their testimony later Monday.

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 another $100 to his secretary.

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phony replacement letter at VanMeter's direction asking that a previous certification request for the nursing homes be rescinded.

Because of that previous certification, the nursing homes were not compensated 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.