Prosecution grills hospital Chief Operating Officer
Published: May 28, 2011
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After days of sometimes-tedious testimony about documents, dates, contracts and the electronic movement of large sums of cash, testimony in the trial of three former hospital executives took a more personal turn Friday, when Angela Rennalls-Atkinson took the stand.
Rennalls-Atkinson's name has popped up periodically in the two weeks of testimony so far, as the defense pointed out through various witnesses the names of top hospital managers - other than those at the defense table - who got extra cash outside of their government NOPA salaries.
On Friday, the jury got to put a face with a name.
Rennalls-Atkinson, the current Schneider Regional Medical Center chief operating officer, was hired by defendant Rodney Miller Sr.
Former Schneider executives Miller, Amos Carty Jr., and Peter Najawicz are standing trial in V.I. Superior Court, accused of using tools like stipend agreements, bonuses and letters of direction as a guise for their scheme to steal large sums money from the hospital.
Prosecutors called Rennalls-Atkinson to the stand Friday afternoon, asking her about her how she came to work at the hospital, her salary, raises, contracts, and the Scotiabank account they contend was a slush fund for the defendants.
Rennalls-Atkinson testified that when she was living in the states, she saw a flier listing a job for Schneider Hospital vice president of nursing and patient care services, and contacted the recruiting firm.
She had several interviews at the hospital but chose to decline the job after she was offered an $80,000 annual salary, she said. Later testimony indicated she made more than $120,000 per year in her previous position.
However, some time later, during the winter, Rennalls-Atkinson saw another flier listing the job again, and she called Miller back.
Miller told her the salary was still $80,000 - but that there would be opportunities to increase it, she said.
In response to a question from Assistant Attorney General Esther Walters, Rennalls-Atkinson said she received a letter offering her an $80,000 salary, relocation expenses, a $10,000 signing bonus, and another bonus for $10,000.
She came onboard at Schneider in April 2003, she said.
It was some time before she saw a government NOPA, she said. She received the bonuses in a separate check.
She had been telling Miller about her challenges in meeting her expenses with the $80,000 salary, and in 2006, Miller gave her a raise, increasing her salary to $120,000 per year, Rennalls-Atkinson said.
Her NOPA remained at $80,000, and she received the extra $40,000 in installments every two weeks by electronic fund transfer to her personal account, she said.
Walters asked Rennalls-Atkinson what she did when she received her first electronic fund transfer.
"I looked at it - and I was pleased," Rennalls-Atkinson said, prompting some jurors to smile.
When she realized that taxes were not being withheld from the extra $40,000, she went to the Human Resources Department and asked to have her withholdings increased on the NOPA salary, because she didn't want to owe too much in taxes, she said.
Rennalls-Atkinson testified that she did not recall whose idea the electronic fund transfers were, or what bank account they came from, although other testimony has indicated some of the payments came through the Scotiabank account.
When Carty became chief executive officer in late 2007, he promoted Rennalls-Atkinson to chief operating officer.
At that point, Rennalls-Atkinson signed an employment agreement for a $175,000 annual salary - but she never received any payments at all under that contract, she said.
She told jurors about her increased responsibilities as COO, including becoming a certifying officer for the government.
According to earlier testimony, she became a signatory on the Scotiabank account in February 2008. Shown the document, Rennalls-Atkinson testified that she recognized her signature, but did not recall signing documents from the account. She also did not recall ever giving any direction to pay anyone from the account, she said.
Rennalls-Atkinson is now paid $95,000 annually, all of it on a NOPA, she said.
Under cross-examination from Alan Teague, representing Miller, Rennalls-Atkinson agreed that when she became chief operating officer, her responsibilities grew.
"That's how I perceive it," she said.
He suggested to her that with greater responsibility, comes greater pay.
"In the real world, yes," she said, prompting an outburst of laughter from the jury.
Asked whether $95,000 is her current salary, Rennalls-Atkinson stated that $95,000 is what she is being paid.
When Teague probed further, Rennalls-Atkinson referred to the $175,000 employment agreement for her current position, saying "If I have a contract or agreement that says one thing, that's the agreement."
Teague pointed out that even though Rennalls-Atkinson received $120,000 annually starting in 2006 - and had gotten a promotion since then - her current pay is the $95,000 that is on her NOPA.
He asked her if she had ever done anything to be reprimanded, or told she was doing a bad job.
Rennalls-Atkinson said she had not.
Teague suggested that when she initially took the job at Schneider, the potential for bonuses and relocation expenses made the hospital more competitive.
Rennalls-Atkinson agreed, although she said the sun and the sea had been attractive to her as well.
Under questioning from Teague, Rennalls-Atkinson said that the $120,000 she was making in 2006 was not overpayment - and that she earned every penny she got.
Teague asked if she thought that in her positions at Schneider, she was worth more than $95,000.
"I know that I am, yes," Rennalls-Atkinson said.
In other testimony Friday, Reid Brett, the commercial service manager for Scotiabank, testified about the Schneider Regional account that was set up in 2005, how funds were transferred out of the account, and about various transactions.
He fielded questions from both prosecution and defense about who received fund transfers - and how much they got.
Recipients included Miller, Carty, Najawicz, Rennalls-Atkinson, Blondell Williams, and Dr. Brian Bacot, who received two $200,000 payments, according to testimony.
From the time the account was set up in 2005 through November 2007, Miller received a total of $2,615,163 from the account, Brett said.
On Friday morning, Judge Michael Dunston dismissed one of the jurors, who had been ill both Thursday and Friday. The dismissal leaves 12 jurors and three alternates.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at email@example.com.