BY STACI WILSON
A Susquehanna County jury found a truck driver accused of bilking Lackawanna/ Susquehanna County Mental Health/ Mental Retardation out of more than $51,000 not guilty on all charges.
The verdict was rendered at about 8 p.m., Friday night, after about four hours of deliberation.
David Fritts, 58, Ithaca, N.Y., faced four felony charges, including Medicaid fraud.
Fritts was issued paychecks from LSCMH/MR as a caretaker of a former girlfriend’s handicapped son.
The girlfriend, Deborah Dougherty-Patton was the actual recipient of the money, Fritts told the jury on Friday. He said he was not aware it was not illegal and he was helping her get paid for taking care of her son.
Patton pleaded guilty to Medicaid fraud and was sentenced to 18 months probation earlier this year and ordered to pay over $23,000 in restitution.
In closing arguments, Fritts’ attorney, former Pennsylvania attorney general Ernie Preate told the jury, “There are so many injustices in the world. This is your chance to do a good thing. When you go back to your family tonight I want you to say ‘I saved an innocent man.’”
In the prosecution’s closing arguments, attorney Heather Albright argued Fritts willingly entered into a conspiracy with Patton. “It’s not that complex of a scheme,” said Albright. “He filled out the timesheets and a heck of a lot of money was sent to him.”
After listening to three days of testimony, the jury, comprised of seven men and five women, deliberated for nearly four hours before returning the not guilty verdicts.
The agency was first alerted to the scam after Fritts’ 2006 income tax preparer Peggy Brown identified that Fritts had received an IRS form for income he told her he did not earn. Brown was the first to tell Fritts she thought the situation constituted a possible fraud.
Fritts was interviewed by Agent Randy Sunday of the state attorney general’s office about the case in November 2008. Following that interview, the fraud charges were lodged against Fritts.
After the verdict was read, Fritts said, “It’s been a living hell for the past three years. This has saved my life.”
Preate said, “(Fritts) was very fortunate to have such a good jury. David is a good man. Maybe next time, the state won’t be so quick to pull the trigger and go after a man caught up in a woman’s web of deceit.”