VanMeter says deal fixed, asked when he will benefit

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ In a taped conversation played Friday at a federal bribery trial, former deputy state Health Commissioner Brent VanMeter told nursing home operator James R. Smart that he had ``fixed your deal'' and asked when he ``could benefit'' from all his hard work.

The telephone discussion occurred a few days before VanMeter was arrested May 2 after returning to the Department of Health from Wewoka, where he had met with Smart after gambling at an off-track betting establishment.

The jury heard a series of tapes during which VanMeter and Smart, as they did on an earlier tape, joked of sexual matters, including their sexual exploits and plans for future conquests of women.

It was evident in the conversations, which spliced business discussions with banter on all type of subjects, that the two men had a close friendship.

At one point, VanMeter says: ``All right, I love you.''

Smart replies: ``All right, I love you, too, buddy.''

In an April 26 tape, VanMeter tells Smart he ``fixed your deal'' to which Smart replies: ``Good. Wonderful.''

Smart later tells VanMeter he will make his brother, John Smart, ``cough up half of a package out of this deal.''

Van Meter tells Smart: ``I don't mean to, to pressure you, but, you know like, when do think ol' Brent might be able to, uh, benefit from his hard work?''

Smart replies that they could do it ``today'' or the ``next time I see you.''

As deputy health commissioner, VanMeter was in charge of nursing home regulation. He is accused of soliciting a $1,000 bribe from Smart to fix a $50,000 problem tied to federal regulations.

On a tape played Wednesday, Van Meter said: ``I'll take 2 percent of that,'' when Smart told him of he would lose ``about 50 grand'' because of the way his homes were certified in May of 1999.

The government has produced evidence that VanMeter gambled heavily. In tapes played Wednesday, Barbara Alstatt, the former health official's secretary, agreed to meet him on two occasions to give him $500 from ``the cup'' and ``the jar'' at the health agency.

FBI agent Mark Seyler testified that VanMeter was at an off-track betting establishment in Oklahoma City when he asked his secretary to get him money.

Tina Hickey, a teller at Fire Lake Entertainment Center, told of loaning VanMeter 20 cents on the day the government alleged he went to Wewoka to pick up a $1,000 payoff for changing how five nursing homes owned by Smart and his brother were certified to receive federal aid.

Smart had told VanMeter that it would cost him $50,000 if the change was not made.

Hickey said VanMeter was a frequent patron of Fire Lake in Shawnee, saying he was polite and stood out because he was so well dressed.

She remembered VanMeter coming to her window about 1 p.m. on May 2 and making a series of small bets. She said he was short of having enough money to cover his bets and rather than canceling a ticket and holding up other betters, she loaned him 20 cents.

She said VanMeter left and came back about 1 1/2 hours later, paid her the 20 cents and made about $400 in various bets, including one $200 wager.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Mack Martin, Hickey said VanMeter did not have his suit coat on when he placed the first bets and agreed VanMeter could have left his coat and wallet in his car.

During the trial, which started Tuesday, the government has produced evidence of a series of actions by VanMeter to reverse such ``dual certification'' of five Smart nursing homes allowing them to treat Medicaid and Medicare patients throughout the facilities.

Because of that certification, the nursing homes were not compensated for thousands of procedures to check the insulin count of diabetic patients.

A Smart company employee testified that he produced a phony letter dated in May 1999, asking that a previous request by the Smart companies for dual certification be rescinded.

Health Department officials testified they tried in vain to find the letter and at VanMeter's urging, sought to help the Smart company. But they said they would not have done so if they had known the rescinsion letter forwarded by VanMeter was a fake.