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Ex-R.I. hospital executive wants convictions overturned

Says case was built on speculation

By Eric Tucker
Associated Press / October 19, 2008
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PROVIDENCE - A former hospital president found guilty of buying the influence of a state senator has asked a judge to throw out the convictions, saying prosecutors presented "innocent evidence in a negative light" and the case should never have gone to a jury.

Lawyers for Robert Urciuoli said in court papers filed Wednesday that federal prosecutors didn't present evidence to support his convictions earlier this month of one count of conspiracy and 35 counts of mail fraud. They say the government's case was built on speculation and inferences that "invited the jury to fill in the blanks."

He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 6. A jury convicted Urciuoli, the former president and chief executive officer of Roger Williams Medical Center, of hiring former state senator John Celona to do the hospital's bidding at the State House. Defense attorneys said there was ample evidence that Celona was hired to do legitimate consulting and community outreach work for a senior center affiliated with the medical center.

They said they clearly showed that Urciuoli had been assured by lawyers for the hospital and by the state Ethics Commission that the relationship was legal.

"There was not a shred of evidence that directly established, or supported a reasonable inference, that Mr. Urciuoli directed Mr. Celona to take any action in regard to legislation, let alone that Celona was being paid for legislative influence," the lawyers wrote.

Frances Driscoll, a codefendant and former hospital vice president, was acquitted of the one corruption count she faced.

Tom Connell, a spokesman for the US attorney's office in Rhode Island, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday. Urciuoli's lawyers either declined to comment or did not return a call seeking comment.

This was the executives' second trial. A federal appeals court earlier this year threw out convictions from their first trial in 2006 because of flawed jury instructions from the judge.

Prosecutors opted not to call Celona, who is serving a federal prison sentence for corruption, as a witness.

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