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May 23, 2015

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Judge dismisses theft, misconduct charges against former UMC chief

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Lacy Thomas, former CEO of University Medical Center, laughs with his attorney, Daniel Albregts, during a break in his trial Tuesday, March 23, 2010, at the Regional Justice Center.

A Clark County judge today dismissed the theft and misconduct charges that had been leveled by the state against former University Medical Center boss Lacy Thomas.

Thomas, who had pleaded not guilty and had been set to go to trial later this month on 10 felony charges, was given a reprieve by Judge Michael Villani, who dismissed the charges as “constitutionally vague” in a seven-page ruling.

The indictment concerned five professional service contracts UMC entered into while Thomas was UMC’s CEO. Prosecutors accused him of entering into sweetheart deals with his longtime Chicago friends or associates that cost the county $11 million.

Villani’s decision was based on a motion to dismiss arguments presented by Daniel Albregts, who represented Thomas, on April 28 and May 31. Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens and Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Staudaher represented the state at that hearing.

In his ruling, Villani agreed with Thomas’ attorney that the indictment doesn’t clearly state how the charges against Thomas are a crime, as defined by state law.

Vlillani wrote that “the State concedes Thomas had not personally received any private benefit from the contracts in question.”

Prosecutors also conceded that each original contract had to go through a vetting process by Thomas, various UMC staff members, a member of the district attorney’s staff and county staff before ultimately being approved by the Clark County Commission, the judge wrote.

All of the invoices were paid by the county, not by Thomas, Villani wrote.

Villani said the substance of the charges was that Thomas entered into contracts that were unnecessary, overly favorable to the vendor and that the work required under the contracts was not performed. Villani asked, if that was the case, why the vendors weren't charged as co-conspirators.

Villani said Thomas’ attorney argued the language contained in the indictment “does not set forth criminal conduct, and therefore, does not provide sufficient notice of the charges against him.”

The judge also wrote that the indictment “does nothing more than put Thomas on notice that he/UMC may have entered into an ill-conceived contract and that by entering into such a contract, his conduct is now deemed criminal in nature.”

Villani said that would be like saying Thomas committed a criminal act if UMC or Clark County entered into an ill-conceived contract that was more favorable to the vendor than to the hospital or the county.

“The court does not accept this proposition,” Villani wrote.

Thomas had been scheduled to have a second trial on June 20. Villani had granted a mistrial last year after Albregts obtained a binder of information that contained more than 500 pages of documents related to ACH Healthcare Systems.

Contracts awarded to ACS, also known as Superior Consulting, are singled out in the indictment, along with contracts that pertain to Frasier Systems Group, TBL Construction, Premier Alliance Management and Crystal Communications.

Villani ruled the documents could have contained or led to the discovery of evidence that could have been beneficial to Thomas’ defense.

Thomas led Chicago’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, formerly called Cook County Hospital, for 10 years before being recruited to UMC.

Prosecutors say Thomas’ three-year tenure at UMC cost the county $11 million in taxpayer funds through no-bid or irregular contracts he gave to Chicago associates or friends.

County auditors said the hospital had run a $34.3 million deficit the year before Thomas was fired.

Albregts says Thomas is being blamed for the county’s own failures with the hospital, which was a money drain when Thomas was hired.

He argued to the jury that the indictment was a result of needing to justify the extensive man-hours and amount of money put into investigating Thomas.

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