Prosecution, defense spar in Danieal case closings

A federal prosecutor said during her closing argument yesterday at the fraud trial stemming from the 2006 death of Danieal Kelly that Danieal's condition at the time she died was proof that the defendants "didn't do their jobs."

Danieal, 14, who had cerebral palsy, died on Aug. 4, 2006. She weighed just 42 pounds and had bed sores that were bone deep.

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Danieal Kelly died in 2006.

Four employees of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health - co-founders Mickal Kamuvaka and Solomon Manamela, and caseworkers Julius Juma Murray and Mariam Coulibaly - are charged with billing the city for in-home visits to at-risk families that were never made under a $3.7-million contract.

Prosecutors allege that the defendants also made up fake documents about visits and destroyed records to obstruct a federal investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben said the case was about "protecting children" and providing a "safety net," but that MultiEthnic dropped the ball.

"This is the kind of job you cannot phone in, you have to see the children," she said, adding that otherwise "children can die."

She said that the evidence against Kamuvaka and Manamela was "overwhelming," and that the two repeatedly told caseworkers "to fill in the gaps" when case files were missing progress notes about home visits.

Witzleben said that Murray didn't begin work for MultiEthnic until 2005, but by spring 2006 "he'd jumped right on the bandwagon."

Murray was assigned to the Kelly family in spring 2006 and was supposed to visit at least twice a week, but he allegedly made far fewer visits and created fake records after Danieal died.

Coulibaly admitted during an interview with investigators in November 2007 that she created false progress notes but didn't mention it when she took the stand in her own defense.

Defense attorneys tried to shift the focus to government witnesses, many of whom had cooperation plea agreements or were given immunity from prosecution.

William T. Cannon, Kamuvaka's attorney, said that Kamuvaka was innocent and tried to make sure caseworkers visited families and filed timely progress reports.

He said that her efforts were "undone" by "renegade workers" who missed visits and then made up false records to cover themselves.

Cannon scoffed that MultiEthnic somehow contributed to Danieal's death. "Danieal Kelly was the victim of an uncaring, if not abusive, mother," he said. (Danieal's mother, Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty last April to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in state prison.)

Paul Hetznecker, Manamela's attorney, said that Manamela had no involvement in Danieal's case and that there was "not one shred of evidence he defrauded the city." He said that caseworkers "lied repeatedly" to him, and that the real villains were a group of caseworkers "who cheated their company."

William Spade, Murray's attorney, pointed to several witnesses who testified that Murray visited Danieal's home.

"You have evidence he was making the visits," Spade said. "If he was making the visits, there's no fraud. If he made mistakes and didn't take some [follow-up] actions he should have, that's not fraud."

Coulibaly's attorney, William Brennan, said that jurors should not put too much stock in her alleged confession because agents questioned her even though her children were present, it was dinnertime, she was pregnant and not feeling well.

"This is a no-brainer," Brennan said, adding that when Coulibaly began crying at one point in the interview "that's when you shut [the interview] down."

Brennan said that Coulibaly had "absolutely nothing" to do with the Kelly family or Danieal's records.

The jury is expected to get the case some time this morning.

Five co-defendants previously pleaded guilty in the case and four testified for the government.