County manager didn't know about Wecht deal with Carlow on cadavers
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If Dr. Cyril H. Wecht entered his public office into any kind of deal with Carlow University to provide the school with unclaimed cadavers from the Allegheny County morgue, the county should have signed off on it and benefited, county Manager James Flynn Jr. testified yesterday.
"If there was any transfer or sale of a cadaver or human remains that had any economic value, that economic value should come to the county," Mr. Flynn said during the 17th day of Dr. Wecht's federal fraud trial.
However, Mr. Flynn said, a search of a county database in response to a government subpoena turned up no such contract -- even though Dr. Wecht referenced one involving what is now the medical examiner's office in a January 2006 letter to the county solicitor.
"He's writing about contracts that, to your knowledge, don't even exist?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings.
"That's correct," Mr. Flynn answered.
Mr. Flynn termed unclaimed bodies "wards of the county." He testified that, for the medical examiner's office to have entered into any contract with Carlow, a formal, written request must be made to and approved by the county manager -- something Mr. Flynn did not do.
Mr. Flynn said the first time he became aware of any possible contract between Dr. Wecht and Carlow was when Mr. Stallings showed him a 2005 addendum to a memorandum of understanding between the two.
In its 41-count indictment against Dr. Wecht, prosecutors accuse the former coroner of enriching himself using county resources. Among the schemes they allege is a deal with Carlow to give Dr. Wecht lab space for his private autopsy business in exchange for cadavers to be used in student autopsies "and other consideration."
Citing the state Anatomical Gifts Act, defense attorney Jerry McDevitt asked Mr. Flynn if he was aware that Dr. Wecht, while he was coroner, could donate unclaimed bodies for educational purposes. Mr. Flynn said he was not.
Mr. Stallings addressed that line of questioning, citing the same law and then asking, "You don't know whether the defendant just got it wrong, do you?"
Earlier in the day, Mr. Flynn testified that he never authorized Dr. Wecht to use his county vehicle, county laboratory facilities or county employees for private financial gain.
Mr. Flynn has been manager since January 2004.
Mr. Flynn also testified about county policies on the books since 2002 prohibiting use of computers for personal or non-county purposes and forbidding e-mail for "private business activities."
The government has tried to show that Eileen Young, Dr. Wecht's top administrative assistant at the coroner's office from 2002 to 2005, used her county computer and e-mail extensively for Dr. Wecht's private autopsy and consulting business. Jurors yesterday saw documents signed by Dr. Wecht and Ms. Young pledging to abide by the county's e-mail policies.
Ms. Young has testified that she did both her private and public work on a laptop furnished by Dr. Wecht. Her predecessor, Maribeth Blettner, did her public and private work on a computer bought by Dr. Wecht while he was still at his private office at St. Francis Medical Center.
Mr. Flynn acknowledged on cross-examination that there was no prohibition on employees doing private work on a computer not furnished by the county. But when asked by the prosecution, he said the prohibition covers use of computer servers and county e-mail addresses.
The trial continues Monday.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
First Published February 29, 2008 12:00 am