CVS execs aquitted of corruption charges in R.I.

May 30, 2008 6:40:21 PM PDT
Two former CVS executives were acquitted Friday of bribing a Rhode Island state senator for legislative favors, dealing a blow to the federal government's probe into corruption in the Statehouse. A jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before finding John R. Kramer and Carlos Ortiz not guilty of 23 counts of bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy.

Kramer held hands with his lawyers as the verdict was read, while family and supporters sitting in several rows in U.S. District Court cried with relief or smiled. Kramer strode out of the courthouse and clapped his hands, then called the prosecution "unjust and unfair."

"I can't believe what I have been through," he said.

Ortiz said he was relieved.

"I knew all along that I was innocent," he said.

U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente said the jury's finding would not stop the ongoing probe into influence peddling in the Legislature.

"If anyone thinks we're going away, they're wrong," he said. "We thought the evidence justified a conviction. The jury didn't. That's the way the system works."

Prosecutors accused the former vice presidents at the Woonsocket-based pharmacy chain of paying former state Sen. John Celona to influence legislation on the company's behalf, then giving him a sham $1,000-a-month consulting contract. The Democrat was hired in 2000 and paid $45,000 over the next three years from the company's political contributions account.

Celona, who already admitted guilt and is serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence, testified as a lead witness for the government. He has admitted selling the influence of his office to CVS, Roger Williams Medical Center and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

Lawyers for the two defendants said Celona repeatedly lied on the witness stand. They said Celona did valuable public relations work for the company, including visiting senior centers to talk up CVS services and regularly inviting Kramer on a public access TV show he hosted to promote CVS charitable events.

Kramer's lawyer, Scott Corrigan, said the swiftness of the verdict was a clear rebuke of Celona's credibility.

Juror Debra Giampietro, 34, said prosecutors offered no direct evidence of a crime. She also said she was troubled by Celona's testimony.

"He kept trying to cover up for himself," Giampietro said. "It was just very apparent."

The company said in a written statement that it had long believed Kramer and Ortiz did nothing criminal.

"We are pleased for these two men and their families that this long and painful ordeal has ended," the statement said.

Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said he would not comment on whether the men would get their jobs back. They have been on unpaid administrative leave.

The trial was the second stemming from a broad federal probe into influence-peddling at the Statehouse.

Celona also testified in the first trial two years ago, in which two former hospital executives were convicted of hiring Celona to promote their legislative agenda. Those convictions were overturned earlier this year because of flawed jury instructions; that case is to be retried.

Besides Celona, another former legislator, ex-House Majority Leader Gerard Martineau, has pleaded guilty as part of the government's investigation and is serving a 37-month prison term.


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