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WHEELCHAIR ATHLETE FACES TRIAL IN BILKING OF DONATIONS

With the word of one of the world's premiere basketball players against him, Kem Hearne was bound over Wednesday on charges that he bilked donations from several people in the name of a boy who needed a liver transplant.

The wheelchair athlete from Bountiful now will face trial in 3rd District Court on four counts of theft by deception and one count of unlawful dealing with property by a fiduciary. The latter and one of the theft by deception counts are third-degree felonies. The other three counts are class B misdemeanors.Hearne has pleaded not guilty to all five charges.

Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone provided key testimony leading to the bindover and is expected to testify again at trial.

Malone, accompanied to court by an entourage that included former Jazzman Isaac Austin, spent 20 minutes on the stand handling questions from a prosecutor and Hearne's attorney.

Hearne, 34, was charged last April after the state Division of Consumer Protection completed a seven-month investigation into his dealings with Cory Mueller, a 10-year-old boy who has liver disease.

The division says Hearne took money, including a $2,000 check from Malone, for Mueller's transplant and never delivered the cash to a trust fund set up in the boy's name. Instead, according to testimony, the money went to a private account controlled by Hearne and a woman from Orem.

Malone testified at the preliminary hearing Wednesday that he was approached by Hearne with Mueller on his lap and the boy's mother at the 1990 Utah State Fair. Malone was attending the fair with some friends.

"We (Hearne and the Muellers) were just talking and they mentioned they were raising money for Cory's transplant. I thought it was cool that he (Hearne) was in a wheelchair himself but he was doing this (for Cory). That's one of the main reasons I did it," Malone said.

The Jazz all-star at first began to hand Cory $300 in cash but then pulled it back and wrote the $2,000 check instead, testified Carmin Mueller, Cory's mother.

Malone said he handed the check to Cory but then watched Hearne take it from the boy.

Carmin Mueller also testified that Hearne, who has raised money statewide for other disabled or sick people, promised her he would send all he collected in Cory's name to a trust fund at the American Liver Foundation.

However, the foundation hasn't received any money from Hearne for Cory Mueller, she said.

"I don't go around just giving money away . . . it was totally for Cory," Malone said.

Courtroom procedure and decorum didn't change too drastically for Malone's megastardom.

The Mailman entered the building and courtroom through public entrances, allowing cameramen to snap his photo. And, like everyone else ever testifying before a judge, Malone swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

He drew chuckles from observers when prosecutor Jeffrey Gray asked him to look at the back of his returned check for any irregularities.

"To tell you the truth, maybe I shouldn't say this, but I've never really looked at the back of a check. I'm sorry about that, judge," he responded.

Malone also stopped outside of the bar that separates the judge and attorneys from the public to autograph a Dream Team card thrust toward him by a boy.

"I don't know if the judge will let me . . . Oh, OK," Malone said before signing the card.

Third Circuit Judge Robert K. Hilder didn't seem to mind.

Hearne, if convicted, faces possible sentences of zero to five years in the state prison for the two felony counts and up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for each misdemeanor count. He will be arraigned in district court on Aug. 21.