Multicounty grand jury issues indictment in Health Department probe

Thursday, September 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An indictment was handed up Wednesday by the multicounty grand jury that is investigating "ghost"

employees at the state Health Department.

The criminal charge, described by the grand jury's presiding judge as lengthy, was sealed and the defendant's identity will remain secret until he is in custody.

Grand jurors issued the indictment after hearing testimony over three days about the Health Department. They return Oct. 10.

The indictment is the second to arise from the scandal. In May, a federal grand jury investigating alleged corruption in the regulation of nursing homes issued the first indictment -- a bribery charge against Brent VanMeter, a fired deputy health commissioner, and Jim Smart, a Wewoka nursing home owner.

The final witness to testify before the multicounty grand jury was state Rep. Mike Mass, chairman of Oklahoma's Democratic Party.

Mass, of Hartshorne, met with grand jurors for 30 minutes and declined to comment afterward.

"I'd say he's not a target of the investigation," his attorney, Everett Bennett of Tulsa, told The Daily Oklahoman.

Grand jurors did not get to hear much from Doyle Carper, the so-called paper supervisor of the ghost employees. He refused to testify about his employment on grounds he might incriminate himself.

Also invoking his rights against self-incrimination was Vernon R. Johnson, one of the health employees fired in June after being labeled as ghosts.

Ghosts have been described as employees on paper -- on the payroll but having little or no actual work.

Mass has said he recommended Johnson, a longtime friend, for a job.

"I've recommended people to every agency in state government. I get three calls a week from people wanting a job, and that's been a way of life in the Legislature. Some get hired, some don't. If you can give them a chance, fine. If not, that's fine, too," Mass told The Oklahoman in July.

Johnson said in July that Mass "had nothing to do" with his employment. Johnson, owner of Chick's Used Cars in Talihina, has denied he was a ghost and insisted he worked hard at the LeFlore County Health Department. He was hired in 1996.

Carper, a former deputy commissioner, was fired June 8. Acting Director Jerry Regier told prosecutors Carper admitted "there were several employees under his supervision who had no jobs and were performing no services for the Health Department."

Carper was quoted by Regier as saying he knew keeping the employees -- including Johnson -- on the payroll was going to be his downfall someday.