- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Federal prosecutors are asking an appeals court to reinstate the convictions of two men allegedly involved in a kickback-bribery scheme at a north Mississippi hospital.

It is the second time the case has had to be addressed by 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.

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.

In a new appeal filed with the 5th Circuit, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clayton A. Dabbs argued Biggers didn’t follow the mandate of the appeals court and had no authority to order new trials.

The 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments in the new appeal on June 3 in New Orleans.

In briefs supporting new trials for the defendants, attorneys for Garner and Shoemaker argue the government didn’t make public the indictment of their star witness - Chandler - until the trial was essentially over. They said the two men did not get a fair trial.

“The evidence on the conspiracy counts at issue consisted solely of Chandler’s testimony. Defendants should have been permitted to further develop defense strategies against the government’s star witness and to fully impeach Chandler,” Shoemaker’s attorney Michael A. Heilman said in briefs.

Julie Ann Epps, the attorney for Garner, said prosecutors’ conduct “unfairly bolstered the credibility of Chandler, where his credibility was key to the jurors’ finding of guilt.”

Dabbs said information in Chandler’s indictment was given to the defense before they cross-examined him at trial.

“The indictment was disclosed and the timing of the disclosure did not undermine the confidence in the verdict and the fairness of the proceeding. The defense never requested a continuance or a recess of the proceedings to develop additional information on this issue, as none was warranted,” Dabbs wrote in briefs.

Garner and Shoemaker were tried for various federal crimes arising from a bribe and kickback scheme involving Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville, Mississippi. The crimes included conspiracy, federal program bribery, paying and receiving health care kickbacks, embezzlement and making false statements to federal agents.

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