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Jurors hear opening arguments in trial of former UMC chief


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.

Updated Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 5:33 p.m.

Lacy Thomas Trial - Day 2

Lacy Thomas, former CEO of University Medical Center, watches the jury enter the courtroom at the beginning of his trial on charges of theft and misconduct Tuesday, March 23, at the Regional Justice Center. Launch slideshow »

The attorney representing former University Medical Center boss Lacy Thomas, who is on trial this week on charges of theft and misconduct, told jurors Tuesday his client is innocent.

“They say the truth will set you free. The truth here is that no crime was committed,” Thomas’ lawyer, Daniel Albregts, said in his opening statement to the jury of seven men and seven women.

Thomas, 53, led Chicago’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, formerly called Cook County Hospital, for 10 years. He came under indictment in February 2008 and is facing 10 felony charges -- five counts of felony theft and five counts of felony misconduct of a public officer.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Mitchell outlined the state’s case against Thomas in his opening statement, saying the former hospital boss cost the county $11 million in taxpayer funds during his three years at the helm of UMC through no-bid or irregular contracts given to Thomas' Chicago associates or friends.

The 10 counts of the indictment stem from Thomas’ tenure at the helm of UMC, which was from 2004 until he was fired in January 2007. County auditors said the hospital had run a $34.3 million deficit the year before Thomas was fired, Mitchell said.

Thomas has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, he could spend decades in prison.

Albregts told the jury that prosecutors want to blame Thomas for the county’s own failures with the hospital, which was a money drain when Thomas was hired.

It still has yet to regain its financial footing, Albregts pointed out.

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Defense attorney Daniel Albregts lowers his head while listening to opening statements by Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Mitchell during the trial of Lacy Thomas, former CEO of University Medical Center, Tuesday, March 23, at the Regional Justice Center.

Additionally, he said investigators had assumed they would find evidence that Thomas had been getting kickbacks from awarding the contracts, but even after combing through his bank accounts they found no evidence Thomas got any cut of money paid for the contracts.

The indictment, he said, was a result of needing to justify the extensive man-hours and amount of money put into investigating Thomas.

Albregts said the contracts ultimately went through the county approval process and none of the contractors was charged with a crime.

“When you hear the evidence in this case, you can return his reputation, you can return his career and you can return his life,” he said.

He said Thomas brought associates from Chicago to work with UMC because he trusted them to help him with the daunting task of righting the struggling hospital.

Mitchell told the jury the contracts were unnecessary and often duplicative of work already being done in-house.

"He was told his main responsibility was to assist in the financial turnaround of the hospital," Mitchell said about directives given to Thomas upon being hired by former County Manager Thomas Reilly. Reilly will be called to testify during the trial, which is expected to last at least a week and a half in the courtroom of District Court Judge Michael P. Villani.

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Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Mitchell presents his opening arguments to the jury during the trial of Lacy Thomas, former CEO of University Medical Center, Tuesday, March 23, at the Regional Justice Center.

Mitchell explained to the jury Thomas’ role in different contracts, including contracts with ACS, also known as Superior Consulting; Fraser Systems Group; TBL Construction; Premier Alliance Management; and Crystal Communications.

Except for TBL Construction, all of the firms were linked to Thomas’ friends and acquaintances from Chicago, Mitchell said. TBL was awarded a contract for work that had been covered in a separate agreement, he said.

Mitchell cited irregularities with contracts Thomas awarded and said the former hospital chief tried to circumvent oversight from county commissioners and the district attorney’s office in awarding contracts.

Both Mitchell and Albregts touched on litigation that followed Thomas’ dismissal, including the county’s pending settlement with ACS for more than a half-million dollars.

“If they could prove there was a crime related to that contract, they wouldn’t be settling it out of court,” Albregts told the jury.

Throughout the trial, which began Monday, Thomas has remained composed and collected, occasionally donning his glasses while taking notes on a yellow legal pad. He has remained out of custody after posting bail shortly after his arrest.

On Tuesday, County Counsel Mary-Anne Miller testified about what she called Thomas’ “displeasure” at oversight from the Clark County District Attorney’s Office.

Miller leads the civil division in the district attorney’s office and oversees legal advice for different county entities.

She recounted a lunch meeting she had with Thomas in which he voiced unhappiness about the district attorney’s office “oversight over his legal needs.”

“He indicated that his job was to compete with the private hospitals in the area and that Nevada statutes got in his way to do that effectively,” she testified.

Her testimony was interrupted as the attorneys debated a legal issue outside the presence of the jury related to what the state is required to prove in its case and specifics about wording in the indictment. Villani will rule on their arguments before the trial ends.

Testimony is set to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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