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Ex-Provident official sentenced in fraud

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Rudolph Bush

Earl Bell, the former chief financial officer of Provident Hospital, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 months in prison for helping a friend use the hospital to defraud financial institutions of more than $300,000.

Bell's friend, businesswoman Mary Payne, is accused of paying him $12,500 to vouch for false invoices that showed one of Payne's companies provided temporary employees to the South Side hospital run by Cook County.

Payne then used the invoices to leverage funds from finance companies and banks.

In court Tuesday, Bell said he was glad his mother was not alive to witness his conduct and punishment. "That instance is not who I am. I am a decent person," he said.

After sentencing Bell, U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon immediately sentenced Payne, ordering her to serve 22 months in prison.

Conlon also sentenced Payne's ex-husband Anthony Payne, who signed fraudulent invoices and checks, to 18 months in prison.

Conlon had agreed to allow Anthony and Mary Payne to stagger their terms of imprisonment so that one parent would be free to care for their two young sons. Anthony Payne declined the judge's offer to report to prison after his ex-wife, however.

Bell, of Chicago; Mary Payne, of Hazel Crest; and Anthony Payne, of Chicago Heights all entered guilty pleas Oct. 27. Bell admitted he took payoffs from Mary Payne, who needed the fraudulent invoices to prop up her failing business.

In a scheme that ran from 1998 through 2000, Bell used his position at Provident to convince finance companies that the county owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mary Payne's company, according to Bell's plea agreement. In fact, the county did not owe any money.

By vouching for the debts, Bell allowed Mary Payne to sell the right to collect on those accounts receivable to finance companies in California and Indiana.

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