http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chronicle/6119459.html

 

Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales indicted in S. Texas

By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN

 

McALLEN — A South Texas grand jury has indicted Vice President Dick

Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on state charges

related to the alleged abuse of prisoners in Willacy County’s federal

detention centers.

 

The indictment, which had not yet been signed by the presiding judge,

was one of seven released Tuesday in a county that has been a source of

bizarre legal and political battles in recent years. Another of the

indictments named a state senator on charges of profiting from his

position.

 

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra himself had been

under indictment for more than a year and half before a judge dismissed

the indictments last month. This flurry of charges came in the twilight

of Guerra’s tenure, which ends this year after nearly two decades in

office. He lost convincingly in a Democratic primary in March.

 

Cheney’s indictment on a charge of engaging in an organized criminal

activity criticizes the vice president’s investment in the Vanguard

Group, which holds interests in the private prison companies running

the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of

interest and “at least misdemeanor assaults” on detainees because of

his link to the prison companies.

 

Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on

Tuesday, saying that the vice president had not yet received a copy of

the indictment.

 

The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office

to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the

privately-run prisons.

 

Gonzalez’s attorney, George Terwilliger III, said in a written

statement, “This is obviously a bogus charge on its face, as any good

prosecutor can recognize. Hopefully, competent Texas authorities will

take steps to reign in this abuse of the criminal justice system.”

 

Willacy County has become a prison hub with county, state and federal

lockups. Guerra has gone after the prison-politician nexus before,

extracting guilty pleas from three former Willacy and Webb county

commissioners after investigating bribery related to federal prison

contacts.

 

Another indictment released Tuesday accuses state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.

of profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from prison

management companies. Guerra announced his intention to investigate

Lucio’s prison consulting early last year.

 

Lucio’s attorney, Michael Cowen, released a scathing statement accusing

Guerra of settling political scores in his final weeks in office.

 

“Senator Lucio is completely innocent and has done nothing wrong,”

Cowen said, adding that he would file a motion to quash the indictment

this week.

 

Last month, a Willacy County grand jury indicted The GEO Group, a

Florida private prison company, on a murder charge in the death of a

prisoner days before his release. The three-count indictment alleged

The GEO Group allowed other inmates to beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. to

death with padlocks stuffed into socks. The death happened in 2001 at

the Raymondville facility, just four days before de la Rosa’s scheduled

release.

 

In 2006, a jury ordered the company to pay de la Rosa’s family $47.5

million in a civil judgment. The Cheney-Gonzalez indictment makes

reference to the de la Rosa case.

 

None of the indictments released Tuesday had been signed by Presiding

Judge Manuel Banales of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region.

 

A second batch of indictments targeted public officials connected to

Guerra’s own legal battles.

 

Willacy County Clerk Gilbert Lozano, District judges Janet Leal and

Migdalia Lopez, and special prosecutors Mervyn Mosbacker Jr. — a former

U.S. attorney — and Gustavo Garza — a long-time political opponent of

Guerra — were all indicted on charges of official abuse of official

capacity and official oppression.

 

Garza, the only one who could be immediately reached Tuesday, called it

a sad state of affairs.

 

“I feel sorry for all of the good people this unprofessional prosecutor

has maligned,” Garza said. “I’m not at all concerned about the

accusations he has trumped up.”

 

Banales dismissed indictments against Guerra last month that charged

him with extorting money from a bail bond company and using his office

for personal business. An appeals court had earlier ruled that Garza

was improperly appointed as special prosecutor to investigate Guerra.

 

After Guerra’s office was raided as part of the investigation early

last year, he camped outside the courthouse in a borrowed camper with a

horse, three goats and a rooster. He threatened to dismiss hundreds of

cases because he believed local law enforcement had aided the

investigation against him.

 

On Tuesday, Guerra said the indictments speak for themselves. He said

the prison-related charges are a national issue and experts from across

the country testified to the grand jury. Asked about the indictments

against local players in the justice system who had pursued him, Guerra

said, “the grand jury is the one that made those decisions, not me.”

 

The indictments were first reported by KRGV-TV.

 

Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this

report.

 

 

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