Jury deliberating in trial of former TASC director<BR>
PRESCOTT – In his opening statement Friday, defendant John Turner said he didn't take any money from the Treatment Assessment Screening Center (TASC).
"I'm the defendant in this case and I'm not guilty," he said.
Turner, 56, faces theft and fraud scheme charges in connection with an alleged embezzlement of about $134,000 of TASC's money.
A state grand jury indicted Turner in March 2002 on the two counts.
According to Barbara Zugor, TASC's executive director, Turner was the agency's first director when it opened a Prescott office in 1995. TASC is an outpatient substance abuse program that has been around since 1977 and has nine offices statewide.
Turner said that all the state witnesses who testified in the trial are TASC employees – there are no outside witnesses, he said – and that all allegations are the result of an internal investigation.
He said that he chose to represent himself because he knows facts in the case better than a lawyer would know. He said that the state has the burden of proof.
"I believe that reasonable doubt already exists, but I will try to enhance that," he said, adding that he is confident that at the conclusion of the trial the jury will concur that there is indeed reasonable doubt.
Concluding his opening statement, Turner called to the stand the head TASC accountant, Diane Weaver, who was the state's witness.
She testified that TASC was without a head accountant for some time before Zugor hired her and that the department had experienced substantial turnover.
She said that the state of accounting is better now than it was in 2000 and 2001. She said that Prescott's office had a 10-percent revenue increase each year from 1999 through 2001.
She said that she didn't catch a $150,000 error on one of Prescott's financial statements until Turner brought it to her attention while she was on the stand.
She said that offices were able to print urine sample labels without receipts.
She testified previously that if a computer printed out a label for a urine test, it should have produced a receipt for payment as well and there wouldn't be a need for a hand-written receipt, and that offices used only manual receipts if the computer system was down or if counselors operated in a remote area.
She also said previously that she prepared a urine test report which indicated that the Prescott office had a significant number of urine samples without payment receipts.
Sandra Zinzilieta, a Prescott TASC office manager, testified that the Prescott office "was client oriented."
She said that they never turned clients away even if they didn't have money to pay. She said the office collected a significant number of urine samples per month and that the main office kept pressure on them to show a profit.
"We had to make a profit to keep running," she said. "They've always expected us to grow." She said that Turner placed providing services to clients above the need of TASC to turn a profit.
After Turner rested his case, the state presented its closing argument.
Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Rueter said Turner was a program director who decided how that office operated.
He said he was in charge of depositing money, and that despite a clear procedure against issuing manual receipts, Turner continued using them on a regular basis.
He said that four witnesses testified that computers "were shut down when the quota was reached and they switched to manual receipts. Each hand-written receipt represented actual money coming into the office.
"Weaver told you that none of those manual receipts were ever entered into the computer system," he said, adding that manual receipts amounted to about $116,000. "Money that should have been deposited, it was not deposited," he added.
"What happened to it we do not know, but it didn't end up in the agency's account."
He concluded by saying that "the defendant was intentionally misleading the main office" by providing false deposit slips.
Turner said in his closing argument Friday that he is the victim of retaliation.
He said the accounting department was in disarray, and added that the current head accountant didn't notice a $150,000 error on the financial report for two years.
"That bothers me and that should bother you," he said.
He said that the state didn't present any evidence that "I stole the money, which I didn't. I plead with you, I'm not guilty."
If the jury convicts Turner on both counts and finds that he took less than $100,000, his sentence could range from probation to a maximum of 12.5 years in prison.
If the jury convicts him but finds that he took more than $100,000, he faces a mandatory prison sentence of at least three years and a maximum of 12.5 years.
The jury will continue its deliberation at 9 a.m. Monday.
In other court news: Yavapai County Superior Court Judge William Kiger vacated the March 19 trial date for Earl Ray Lappe after both the state and the defense requested a delay.
The judge moved the trial date to June 25. Kiger set April 30 as the deadline for both sides to file any of the remaining motions.
Police arrested Lappe, 26, in October 2001 in connection with the shooting death of Anthony Smith.
Police found Smith's body in his Prescott home in the early morning hours of Sept. 7, 2001, after receiving an anonymous phone call asking that officers check on his welfare.
Police found Smith dead. He had suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head from a .20-gauge shotgun.
According to court files, Lappe reportedly told a number of people about the shooting. Police reportedly recovered the defendant's blood-stained clothes as well as the shotgun.
Kiger recently issued a warrant to keep Marc Tapija in custody after Lappe's attorney, Ken Ray, filed a motion seeking assurance that Tapija would be available to appear as a material witness.
Tapija testified during the preliminary hearing for Lappe that the defendant told him that he killed Smith.
Tapija reportedly told police that he and another witness were present when Lappe allegedly changed his blood-stained clothes.
Contact Mirsada Buric-Adam at email@example.com or 445-8179, ext. 1099.