Acquittal comes in West Ala. fraud case

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

BIRMINGHAM – A federal jury in Birmingham has acquitted a Linden woman of any wrongdoing in a conspiracy scheme that allegedly milked more than $60,000 from the U.S. Government.

Cynthia Agee, 39, was cleared of all charges Friday after jurors agreed with her attorneys’ argument that facts surrounding the federal indictment were petty and confusing.

Agee was accused of obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury in the federal government’s investigation into West Alabama Health Services. Edward Ward Jr., of Demopolis, has already pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired to take money from WAHS through an invoice scheme.

“Basically, [the government] had Ed Ward tape a conversation with Mrs. Agee, and when they called her in front of a grand jury, eight months later, she misstated what Mr. Ward told her,” said one of Agee’s attorney, Chuck Dauphin. “It amounted to a pop quiz about the conversation she had with Ed Ward.”

According to Dauphin, who tried the case with Birmingham partner David McKnight, the government’s case revolved around slight variations in Agee’s testimony to the grand jury and her taped conversation with Ward.

“They didn’t charge her with falsifying any invoices,” Dauphin said. “They didn’t charge her with stealing money. They charged her with trying to obstruct their investigation because of a pop quiz.”

Dauphin also said the government’s case had holes in it because of the timeframe in which Agee’s conversation with Ward was taped.

According to U.S. Attorneys, Agee told a witness to lie when questioned by investigators. Dauphin, who indicated Ward was that witness, said the chronology of the case would make that charge baseless.

“Mr. Ward had already pled guilty and had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors when he taped the conversation,” Dauphin said. “How could she have told this witness to lie when the witness was already part of the government’s case?”

Jurors, who took less than four hours to deliberate, agreed with Agee and her attorneys.

“There’s not enough I can say about the way Mrs. Agee handled herself in this case,” Dauphin said. “Through this entire thing, she was always honest. That’s why we won the case.”

However, it took some time for the government and court system to learn Agee, who testified last week, was innocent of the charges.

“We put her on the stand because we knew she would tell the truth,” Dauphin said. “She told the truth to the FBI and the grand jury, but for some reason, they didn’t believe her. Thankfully, the jury did.”

Along with her testimony, defense attorneys also called three character witnesses on behalf of Agee.

The federal government called three agents, an FBI official and Ward.

“They took some tough cross-examination,” Dauphin said of the state’s witnesses.