Prosecutors follow Miller's housing allowance money
Published: May 19, 2011
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ST. THOMAS - Prosecutors on Wednesday raised questions about the money Rodney Miller Sr. obtained in housing allowances, while the defense fired back, eliciting testimony suggesting a possible explanation for multiple versions of Miller's 2005 employment contract that were admitted as evidence the previous day.
The action came as testimony entered its third day in V.I. Superior Court on Wednesday in the corruption trial of former Schneider Regional Chief Executive Officer Miller and three other former Schneider Regional officials.
Allison Spencer, a paralegal who worked for defendant Amos Carty Jr. when he was employed at Schneider, was on the witness stand all day Wednesday, fielding questions first from Assistant Attorney General Denise George-Counts, then from defense attorney Alan Teague, representing Miller.
The prosecution moved more documents into evidence through Spencer on Wednesday, as it continued to lay the framework for its case.
The money that Miller is accused of fraudulently taking under the guise of housing allowances is the basis for several charges in the 50-count charging document, including three against Miller, one against former Chief Financial Officer Peter Najawicz and five against former hospital board chairwoman June Adams:
- Miller is accused of fraudulently obtaining a check from the hospital for a $45,500 advance on his housing allowance - when the annual housing allowance in his contract actually was $20,000 - and then continuing to collect his housing allowance installment payments anyway.
- Miller also is accused of taking more than $2,000 in excess of what he was due in each of his housing allowance installment payments for a period of time.
- Najawicz is accused of certifying and approving more than $60,000 in excessive housing allowance payments to Miller, knowing that the certifications could result in illegal, improper or incorrect payments, while five of the six charges against Adams stem from housing allowance payments to Miller.
- Adams is accused aiding and abetting embezzlement or falsification of public accounts by approving the $45,500 "advance" housing allowance payment to Miller and by approving the excessive housing allowance installment payments. She also is accused of lying under oath by telling investigators that she did not sign documents authorizing those payments.
On Wednesday, Spencer testified that she prepared check voucher requests - which then were processed through the hospital's accounts payable department before a check was generated - for Miller's housing allowance payments.
Miller's 2002 contract, which had a term of three years, had a provision for a $20,000 annual housing allowance.
Spencer, who said that she was "not really the best with math," testified that she would know when Miller's housing allowance payment was due because Miller or Carty would remind her.
Documents related to Miller's housing allowance payments were among those that George-Counts moved into evidence Wednesday.
They included a letter to FirstBank that prosecutors contend Adams signed, notifying the bank that the hospital was advancing Miller $45,000 on his housing allowance, and a number of check voucher requests for Miller's housing allowance, along with the checks that had been paid.
Spencer testified that she prepared a voucher for Miller's advance on his housing allowance, which had a reference to Miller's 2002 contract on it.
George-Counts asked her to find where the contract authorized the payment of a $45,500 housing advance.
"There's nothing there about 45,000," Spencer said.
In response to questions from George-Counts, Spencer said she did not recall the circumstances that prompted her to prepare the voucher and did not recall who asked her to prepare it. Spencer also said she did not recall why there was a $45,500 advance payment for housing when Miller's contract only called for a $20,000 housing allowance.
Najawicz and Adams' signatures were at the bottom of the voucher for the housing advance, Spencer testified.
George-Counts also moved into evidence a number of Miller's quarterly housing allowance payment requests, including some that started in late 2003 and were for approximately $5,000 - a quarter of Miller's $20,000 housing allowance. Those were signed by Beverly Chongasing, who was hospital board chairwoman at the time.
However, on April 27, 2004, the payment request was for $7,500, according to testimony.
George-Counts asked where Spencer got the $7,500 figure when she prepared the document.
"I can't recall now. I had to be given the figure. I can't recall when and how," Spencer said.
The prosecutor also asked if Spencer responded in any way to seeing the higher figure.
"If I was asked to prepare it, I prepared it. I didn't question," Spencer said.
She identified the signature of Adams, who had become board chairwoman, on the request.
Under cross-examination later in the day, Spencer said she did not know whether the hospital board had increased Miller's housing allowance, leading to the higher payment.
The prosecution moved a number of other documents into evidence on Tuesday and Wednesday, including stipend agreements, contracts and letters signed by Miller providing additional pay outside of the NOPA salaries for Carty and Najawicz.
On Wednesday afternoon, Teague began his cross-examination of Spencer and quickly elicited testimony from her suggesting a possible explanation for different versions of Miller's 2005 contracts that prosecutors moved into evidence on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, George-Counts had questioned Spencer about two versions of Miller's 2005 contract, both of them dated May 14, 2005.
One, a seven-page document, included provisions for a $150,000 annual base salary and a $20,000 annual housing allowance - the same terms that are in Miller's 2002 contract.
The other, a 16-page document, included provisions for a $265,000 annual base salary, a $40,000 annual housing allowance, a $53,000 retention incentive to be paid at the end of each year of employment. The document also had two attachments, Schedule A and Schedule B, outlining other perks, according to testimony.
Other documents Spencer testified to on Tuesday included a June 2005 offer letter from Adams to Miller, pertaining to the terms of his contract and containing additional perks, and a draft version of Miller's contract from September 2005.
Under questioning from Teague, Spencer agreed that the shorter version of the contract was a "placeholder," keeping the terms of Miller's previous employment contract in place after it expired, while the board negotiated a new contract with Miller.
"I would believe it was a placeholder," Spencer said.
Noting that the board had contracted with Clark Consulting to explore a compensation package for Miller, Teague suggested that the board would not have done that if it intended to keep Miller at his 2002 salary.
Teague also suggested that Miller's 2005 contract was still a work in progress in September 2005, when Miller and Carty still were making revisions to it, and Spencer agreed with him.
Spencer also agreed with Teague that the longer version of the contract had been back-dated to when Miller's 2002 contract expired, so there would not be a lapse.
Teague also focused questioning on other employees at the hospital - who are not charged with any crimes - who received bonuses and salaries outside of their NOPAs.
Spencer told him she remembered other employees that received bonuses after Schneider Hospital received Joint Commission accreditation in 2003.
Teague also asked Spencer if she knew of any other hospital employees who received stipends similar to those the defendants received.
"Yes, I remember a few," Spencer said.
He then admitted a number of other stipend agreements, for money in excess of NOPA salaries for a number of other people who were employed by the hospital.
The stipend agreements, some dated in 2004, included stipends ranging from $20,000 to $23,000, according to testimony.
Defense attorney Adriane Dudley, who was taken to the hospital by a Superior Court Marshal after V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston called a recess Tuesday afternoon, was not in court on Wednesday.
"I'm going to be fine. I just had a flare-up of a chronic condition," she said in a short phone interview.
Spencer is scheduled to continue her testimony today.
- Contact reporter Joy Blackburn at 774-7882 Ext 455 or email email@example.com.