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Jury acquits Whitfield Co. woman on theft charges

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After the week-long trial, the jury found Jennifer McGill not guilty after four hours of deliberations. (Image: MGN)

On Monday, after a week-long trial, a jury in Whitfield County acquitted a woman who had been charged in 2012 for the theft of $112,000 in cash from a business known as Benevis, also known as Kool Smiles.

The company claimed Jennifer McGill was the only person involved in the theft, which was intended to be company bank deposits, and that she took the cash for her own personal use.

Defense Attorney McCracken Poston disputed the fact that McGill stole the cash, but did admit she didn't deposit the $112,000 over the two-year period in question. He argued before the jury that the same amount the state claimed was stolen by McGill as a "fiduciary" of the company had been applied to an "intensive incentives program" for the office and its employees.

Poston countered that McGill was instructed by the then Chief Operating Officer of Kool Smiles, as well as her then District Manager who performed quarterly audits, to utilize the cash for what he described to the jury as "An 'intensive incentive program' that made the office operate at a frenetic pace to drive up the sales of Medicaid-billed services".

Poston said of the almost constant contests, incentives and recognitions in this period of time at the Dalton office, that "the place was operating like something between a game show and a sweatshop. "

Poston said "Creature comforts were purchased and brought into the office for the benefit of the employees, including iPods, a popcorn machine, exercise equipment, visits from a masseuse. and a seemingly never-ending series of contests and prizes for the top performing employees. or for the office as a whole, as its Medicaid sales numbers went up." Poston said daily prizes included cash awards for employees who met and surpassed sales performance goals, and evidence was provided of the practice in the form of a receipt from a winning employee.

"This was all going gangbusters. until the United States Senate Finance Committee began to make inquiries of the practices of these dental chains, including specifically Kool Smiles, of using incentives to drive sales of Medicaid-billed services." Poston continued, "And then an expose' by the PBS series 'Frontline' was being produced.'

Poston added "Evidence came out in the trial that the company, worried that employees would use their cell phones to become whistleblowers, went so far as to create daily incentives for locking up employee cell phones during work hours".

Poston said that evidence was given at the trial that a box of the receipts for all of the items bought with the cash that would have proven his client's innocence was removed from the building "without warning, and then two large men in dark suits who claimed to be from a security company hired by former Kool Smiles COO Bill Brigham showed up on February 1."

Poston said one of the men, Robert Strickland from Strickland Security and Safèty Systems, Inc., of Atlanta, was "wearing an "NFL ring" which he spun around in McGill's face as Strickland interrogated her with his colleague, Raymond Glaze.

Poston says McGill, who was five months pregnant at the time, was told by the men that unless she cooperated, she "would have her baby in prison and never see it again."

McGill testified at trial that one of the men wrote out a statement for her to sign, and she signed it to get away from them. Poston says it was proven at trial that many of the things handwritten on the so-called confession we're patently not true, but McGill 'Was told to write it and she complied. An example of this is the written "explanation" for the crime, that her husband was laid off from work and that she had taken a pay cut to take the job. Poston said it was proven to trial that neither of these things were true, and put up expert witness Dr. Gregory DeClue, a forensic psychologist who had tested McGill and found her to be among an "extremely suggestible" personality type.

Dr. DeClue also testified about modern interrogation methods and training that ensure against false confessions, noting the lack of any recording of the contact between the men and Poston's client.

"Strickland has claimed in multiple social media sites that he spent three years playing in the National Football League," Poston said, 'nd so much of his work as a bodyguard involved intimidation. " Poston added, "When I confronted him in cross-examination with the team rosters from the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets from 1983-1985, Strickland had to admit on the witness stand that he was not on them and had never played a single game in the NFL. "

Poston said that it also came out in the trial from the then Human Resources director of Kool Smiles that she had not been the one who called Strickland's company to interrogate her employee. but that they were called in bv then COO Bill Brigham.

Poston said, "All the jury had to do 'was connect the dots on the timeline. As long as things were going well, the fict that 45 of 52 weekly deposits in a year did not make it to the bank was no problem. It was all getting poured back into the company and was ensuring high Medicaid billings. When the United States Senate inquiry turned toward Kool Smiles, Jennifer McGill went from being a company asset to its greatest liability. Sending Strickland and Glaze to coerce a false confession out of her could give the company an explanation for the absence of over $ ] 12,000.00, an excuse that would fill a large hole on the books that could have been questioned in a potential Medicaid fraud investigation.'

After the week-long trial, the jury found McGill not guilty after four hours of deliberations.

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