December 18, 2014

All is calm, all is bright

S.J. fireworks Fireworks explode over St. John’s Main Street during Winterfest celebrations Saturday evening. For more Christmas event pictures see page A7.


Hospital gets grant for MRI upgrades

Whitman Hospital & Medical Center has been awarded United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant funding in the amount of $500,000 under the 2014 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program administered by the Rural Utilities Service. Whitman Hospital requested grant funding to support the acquisition of digital Tomosynthesis which will provide for 3-D Breast Imaging, as well as a permanent MRI unit. Both modalities are an essential part of Whitman Hospital’s telemedicine program. “The use of telemedicine in our rural region is critical to the ability to provide quality health care to the communities we serve,” said hospital CEO Hank Hanigan. Whitman Hospital will also commit funding to the project. Design work is underway at this time with plans to proceed in the first part of 2015. The hospital currently provides digital mammography x-rays, however the capabilities of Tomosynthesis far exceeds current digital mammography units. In addition, the advancement with Tomosynthesis addresses the three challenges in screening for breast cancer: discomfort, overlapping tissue due to breast compression and one dimensional images. The benefit of a permanent indoor MRI unit will allow services to be provided in a climate controlled environment which will improve patient wait time and the overall patient experience.


Whitgro: Holt admits taking $300,000

Shayne Holt, former employee of Whitgro, Inc., St. John, entered a plea of guilty in superior court Friday morning to a charge of first degree theft. Under the terms of a plea bargain agreement, Holt also admitted to “aggravated” charges that will mean a sentence which will be beyond the state’s normal range for first degree theft. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 23. Holt, 40, was charged with taking funds from Whitgro, where he was employed as IT Controller from 2009 to 2012. Under terms of the plea bargain, Holt admitted to taking $300,000 from the cooperative. Prosecutor Denis Tracy will recommend a sentence of three years for the thefts. Tracy told the court Friday the company became aware of the Holt thefts in the fall of 2012 and requested the sheriff’s office to investigate. He said Sgt. Keith Cooper reviewed boxes of records in preparation of the state’s case. Tracy told the court Friday Holt used various methods for taking the funds. One method involved manipulation of the computer program which accounted for $200,000 of the sum cited in the plea bargain. The prosecutor said another technique used by Holt was to enter invalid records of wheat purchases by Whitgro. Payment on the bogus purchases were recorded by Holt as going to farmers, but in fact, the actual payments went to Holt. As a first-time offender for first degree theft, under the state’s standard sentencing range system, Holt would have received a sentence of up to 90 days. Under the state’s aggravated circumstances provisions, the standard 90 day limit is lifted and the length of the sentence is left up to the court. The maximum Holt could receive for the conviction is 10 years. The provisions apply if a jury rules aggravated circumstances are present, or if a defendant admits them at arraignment. Holt Friday admitted two aggravated circumstances. One was using a position of trust to take funds from a victim, and the other was causing excessive loss to the victim, which was the $300,000 sum agreed upon in the plea bargain. The charge against Holt was filed Aug. 21 and he was summoned to appear in court Sept. 19 for arraignment. He pleaded not guilty and a trial date had been scheduled for Dec. 15. The loss sustained by Whitgro in Sgt. Cooper’s investigation report, which was filed with the charge, alleged Holt took $488,611 from the company. Tracy in his plea bargain proposal to Holt, said he would stipulate to a loss of $300,000 and ask the court to order restitution on that amount. According to the plea bargain, which was filed with the court, Tracy made the offer Nov. 20 and gave Holt until last Monday, Dec. 1, to accept it and show up in court Friday to enter his plea. Defense Attorney Michael Pettit waived any statement on behalf of Holt. He said he would need approximately an hour to present Holt’s case, and the Jan. 23 sentencing date was set. Judge David Frazier asked whether there were reasons for Holt to remain out of jail pending sentencing. Tracy said Holt’s continued release was not part of the plea bargain but that he had implied to the defense that he would not ask the court to send Holt to jail on the day of his plea. The judge agreed to allow Holt to remain out of jail until his sentencing Jan. 23. Problems with Whitgro’s books were cited in the grain theft trial of James Hughes, the Endicott contract trucker who was charged with taking grain out of Whitgro storage bins and delivering the loads to river terminals in his own name. Defense Attorney Steven Graham contended Hughes was being charged by Whitgro as a cover-up for mismanagement of the company’s books. Specifics of the alleged losses were never brought up at the Hughes trial in July of 2012. The Hughes trial ended with a hung jury, but Hughes later admitted four charges of theft and was sentenced in October of 2013 to 15 months in jail. He paid $73,186 in restitution to Whitgro.



Grapplers score wins

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Gordon Forgey

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