Inside the Wecht case
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The government has charged Dr. Cyril H. Wecht with 41 offenses: theft of honest services through mail and wire fraud; mail and wire fraud; and theft from an organization receiving federal funds.
Prosecutors allege that Dr. Wecht used public resources while Allegheny County coroner to enrich himself. They also accuse him of using faxes and mailings to defraud private clients.
Below are some of the components of the alleged schemes, the government's case and the defense's argument.
Scheme: Dr. Wecht sent Allegheny County cadavers to Carlow University for student autopsies in violation of state law. Under the agreement, he received free lab space for his private practice.
Prosecution: Dr. Wecht did not have authority to conduct autopsies when the cause and manner of death were not in question. He struck a private contract with Carlow but used bodies at the coroner's office -- "wards" of the county, in one official's words -- to fulfill his obligation while enjoying rent-free space.
Defense: Carlow's former president, who made the deal with Dr. Wecht, testified that no body-trading agreement was ever made or discussed and said she was "beside herself" to learn of the charges.
Scheme: Dr. Wecht bilked private clients by billing them for $80 and $90 round-trip limousine rides he never took.
Prosecution: Dr. Wecht drove himself to the airport and coroner's office employees would drive his county car back to Pittsburgh. Secretaries used fake receipts and disguised their handwriting to make it look like both portions of a round-trip invoice were filled out on different days when, in fact, they were completed at the same time.
Defense: Dr. Wecht's former top administrative assistant at the coroner's office testified that she and her predecessor were responsible for the disguised handwriting and that Dr. Wecht had no idea of what they were doing. She said he explained that the limousine fee covered various "incidental" expenses incurred while traveling.
Scheme: Dr. Wecht regularly overcharged and sent private clients bills for airfare.
Prosecution: The bills were sent on invoices from a defunct travel agency that included a stamp that said "paid" and initials. The agency did not issue the invoices and had nothing to do with their use.
Defense: Dr. Wecht's secretaries, who handled the billing, would routinely send clients invoices based on quotes of plane ticket prices and did not reconcile bills with the actual expenses. Some plane tickets were charged for the right amount or less.
Scheme: Coroner's office employees would daily be asked to run any number of personal errands for Dr. Wecht.
Prosecution: Numerous witness testified about the errands and some said they feared retaliation if they disobeyed. Deputy coroner John J. Smith said Dr. Wecht paid him $2 for one detail.
Defense: Lead defense attorney Jerry McDevitt characterized the errands as "favors." The government stipulated that errands run to the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University were not part of the scheme, and former Chief Deputy Coroner Joseph Dominick said that would drastically reduce the number of Wecht details.
Scheme:Dr. Wecht operated a "substantial" portion of his private business, Cyril H. Wecht and Pathology Associates using county resources.
Prosecution: County secretaries testified to handling bookkeeping, billing, correspondence and client intake for Dr. Wecht while at the coroner's office during the workday. They used county fax machines and computer equipment to help Dr. Wecht earn tens of thousands of dollars. "Defendant is not innocent of theft of honest services because one of the interstate wire transmissions sent in furtherance of the scheme didn't take long or cost much to send," the government wrote in a filing.
Defense: Dr. Wecht's secretaries always completed their county duties. One, Eileen Young, testified that she worked nights and weekends, bought her own stamps and paper, and used a computer provided by Dr. Wecht. The faxes sent cost the county $3.96.
First Published March 16, 2008 12:00 am