- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A federal appeals court has reinstated the convictions of two men allegedly involved in a kickback-bribery scheme at a north Mississippi hospital.

Thursday’s ruling marks the second time the case has had to be addressed by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Lee Garner, the owner of a nurse staffing company, and former administrator Ray Shoemaker of the Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville, Mississippi, were convicted on charges in the scheme in 2011 by a federal jury in Oxford.

The government said the two men conspired to increase Lee Garner’s nurse staffing business at the hospital and Garner paid Ray Shoemaker for his help. Garner was accused of offering to pay Shoemaker $25,000 in exchange for Shoemaker’s influence over the ordering of nursing services.

Garner was convicted on three counts of fraud and one count of bribery. Shoemaker was convicted on two counts of fraud and one count of bribery.

Shoemaker is currently serving a 55-month sentence on other counts in the scheme. Garner has not been given jail time.

In 2012, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. overturned the jury verdict on several counts, saying the government failed to prove the person receiving the alleged bribe - in this case former hospital board member Michael David Chandler - had any control over nursing service contracts.

The government appealed to the 5th Circuit, which in 2014 reinstated the convictions and ordered Biggers to proceed with sentencings.

Court records show that last July Biggers, instead of sentencing Garner and Shoemaker, ordered new trials for both men. Biggers said new trials were necessary because the government didn’t make public the indictment of their star witness until the trial was essentially over.

The 5th Circuit panel said Thursday that Biggers had no authority to order new trials. The panel ordered the convictions reinstated and ordered Biggers to hold new sentencing hearings.

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