Two days of testimony by a key witness opened week three of the Schneider Regional Medical Center corruption trial. The witness was a former hospital financial service official who told the court how she became custodian of records for a special project given to her by one of the three defendants.
Gail Gonzalez-Herreira’s testimony in Superior Court seemed to be of particular interest to prosecutors and lawyers representing defendants Rodney Miller, Amos Carty and Peter Najawicz. Gonzalez-Herreira began by recounting how Najawicz turned to her as the hospital financial service manager to take charge of handling sensitive documents.
She testified that from 2004 to 2008 she served as an accountant, a financial analyst and finance manager at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital. At the time, she said, the hospital was being served with subpoenas. Earlier in the trial Hannibal Ware, former investigator for the U.S. Interior Department Office of Inspector General testified that subpoenas were issued for materials needed to conduct a federal audit.
Ware told the court he and his team were stymied in their efforts to gather information by Miller and Carty. By issuing subpoenas and after having hospital officials hauled into court, a number of requested documents were handed over.
The witness told the jury about the day Najawicz called her out of a meeting and said he wanted her to take on a task he thought she was well suited to.
“I was assigned to the office. I had the only key to the office,” she said. The task was to receive documents requested by auditors and hand them over to investigators. Herreira described the method she devised to make sure the process was kept efficient and confidential.
Only one person at a time was allowed in the room. There were sign-in sheets and a logbook for visitors to describe their activities while in the secured room. Collected documents were kept in stacks according to what subpoenas called for.
Assistant Attorneys General Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte and Quincy McRae presented some of those documents to the jury over the course of Gonzalez-Herreira’s appearance on the witness stand. They included letters and memos, contracts, authorizations and records of banking transactions.
Not all of the documents presented on Monday and Tuesday were obtained by subpoena. There were notices of personnel actions filed with the V.I. government’s Division of Personnel, documents referencing the V.I. Government Hospitals and Health Facilities Corporation Act and the bylaws of the St. Thomas-St. John District Hospital Board.
There were also logs generated by Gonzalez-Herreira of electronic transfers made into the personal bank accounts of Miller, Carty and Najawicz. The special projects custodian of records said she did so to ensure there was an accurate account of funds being paid from hospital accounts to the three executives.
Under questioning by Tejo-Sprotte, Gonzalez-Herreira said most of the documents turned over under subpoena related to executive compensation.
Miller, Carty and Najawicz are accused of carrying out a scheme to enrich themselves and each other by paying out unauthorized bonuses, incentives, raises and perks in excess of the sums owed to them under the contracts filed with the Division of Personnel.
One of the most stunning moments came when prosecutors asked the witness to describe a series of electronic transfer requests paid out to Miller’s accounts at the Pentagon Federal Credit Union and the Navy Credit Union.
The first one, dated May 17, 2007, directed Najawicz to transfer $966,456.45 into Miller’s account. The next one, dated Aug. 13, 2007, directed the chief financial officer to transfer $111,759.62 into Miller’s Pentagon account, along with a separate payment of $6,153.84 into the Navy account.
The Aug. 13 memo also directed Najawicz to transfer $3,333.33 monthly to the Navy account, effective Sept. 1, 2007.
On Oct. 24, 2007, the transfer request called for $789,660.00 to be sent to Miller’s Pentagon account. Another request, this time from former hospital board chair June Adams on Aug. 3, 2005, asked for a transfer of $154,038.46 to the Pentagon account, along with a single transfer of $4,423.07. There was also a request by Adams for a monthly transfer of $3,333.33 to the Pentagon account, effective Sept. 1, 2005.
Another $30,000 was requested for transfer to Miller’s Navy credit union account.
These payments were to be made “in accordance with the June 21, 2005, employment agreement.”
Cross-examination by defense attorneys Robert King, Gordon Rhea and H. Hannibal O’Bryan began Monday afternoon and continued through Tuesday, midday. O’Bryan, representing Miller, handed the witness a calculator and asked her to follow him through an itemized list of benefits, perks and bonuses awarded to Miller under contract with the hospital.
The itemized lists corresponded to each of the massive payouts outlined in the memos.
Also paid out through electronic transfer to Miller as part of the June 21 agreement, $205,750 that, according to a May 24, 2006, memo written by the chief executive to Najawicz, directing him to do so. After the defense conducted a lengthy cross-examination, Tejo-Sprotte returned to ask Gonzalez-Herreira whether she knew what justification was given for the payout.
“I don’t,” she said.
And at one point during rebuttal questioning by Tejo-Sprotte, a document was shown to the jury indicating that the June 21 employment agreement between Miller and the hospital didn’t exist.
That included a June 13, 2008, memo written by Carty to Najawicz, stating, “I have found no June 21, 2005, agreement between Schneider Regional Medical Center and Rodney Miller.”
The chief financial officer noted his own conclusions while answering a subpoena for records issued by the V.I. Attorney General Office.
On June 13, 2008, Najawicz said, “despite a diligent search I found no employment agreement.”
The first time the three defendants were tried for racketeering, embezzlement, obtaining money under false pretense and abuse of office by certifying officers was 2011. The lead prosecutor in the case, Denise George, who is now the territory’s attorney general, said the V.I. government put a hold on Miller’s bank accounts and the accounts of some of his relatives.
On Monday, George said at the time that action occurred, prosecutors intended to forfeit the funds if the jury found Miller guilty. But Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston declared a mistrial after the jury in 2011 could not produce a unanimous verdict.
The funds in those accounts remain on hold, she said, until the outcome of the current trial is determined.