OK Jury to hear explicit tapes

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

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A jury of seven men and five women have been alerted that they will hear a series of explicit tapes in a public corruption case, including one tape a defense attorney describes as "two middle-aged adolescents" bragging about their sexual prowess.

In the second day of the trial on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Ralph B. Thompson denied a defense bid to suppress evidence about sex, gambling and other matters involved in the case against former state Health Department official Brent VanMeter and nursing home owner James R. Smart.

In opening arguments, the prosecution called VanMeter a state official with "a surprising amount of power" who solicited a $1,000 bribe from Smart to fix a $50,000 problem.

Attorneys for VanMeter and Smart contended no bribe occurred.

Mack Martin, VanMeter's attorney, said a taped conversation that led to the arrest of his client and Smart was a case of "just two guys bragging to each other and bolstering each other up."

The defense sought unsuccessfully to suppress evidence of VanMeter's gambling activities, his hiring of Smart's girlfriend, his actions requiring the backdating of time-sensitive documents submitted to the health agency by nursing homes operated by Smart and his actions to alert the homes in advance of inspections.

Burck Bailey, Smart's attorney, told jurors that what they will hear on one taped conversation will be "two middle-aged adolescents, primarily talking about their sexual prowess, much like the males of the species have been doing since they came out of the caves."

Martin called VanMeter "a hard-working public servant who had a good heart and tried to help people with their problems."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlene Joplin said the problem VanMeter allegedly tried to fix for Smart was a crime. She referred to a government tape in which she says VanMeter says he'll "take 2 percent" from the money Smart's company will save if the Health Department rescinds how a nursing home is certified.

The change was needed so the nursing home could collect $4.37 each time a patient with diabetes is monitored for glucose, Joplin said.

She said VanMeter will be heard on the tape telling Smart that "I fixed your deal" and asking "when do you think ol' Brent may benefit from all this hard work."

Bailey told jurors they would not hear any evidence that "Jim Smart gave Brent VanMeter any amount of money. There will be, in short, no evidence of corruption, which is the core of this case."

Bailey said the case involves "bureaucratic bungling" by the federal government. The attorney, in questioning officials of the Health Care Financing Administration, tried to show discrepancies in government regulations.

The trial began Tuesday with the selection of the jury and a ruling by Thompson that there was no basis to grant a defense request to move the trial because of prejudicial pre-trial publicity.

Also on opening day, Joplin said evidence would show VanMeter had a propensity for gambling and "a real desperation for additional money."