Wednesday, November 19, 2008
McALLEN, Tex., Nov. 18 -- Vice President Cheney and former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales have been indicted on state charges involving federal prisons in a South Texas county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles under the outgoing prosecutor.
The indictments, returned Monday and made public Tuesday, have not yet been signed by the presiding judge, and no action can be taken on them until that happens.
The seven indictments issued in Willacy County also targeted some public officials connected to District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra's own legal battles.
Regarding those indictments, Guerra said, "the grand jury is the one that made those decisions, not me."
Guerra himself was under indictment for more than 1 1/2 years until a judge dismissed the indictments last month. Guerra's tenure ends this year after nearly two decades in office. He lost convincingly in a Democratic primary in March.
Guerra said the prison-related charges against Cheney and Gonzales are a national issue, and experts from across the country testified to the grand jury.
Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. Cheney is accused 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, 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.
Gonzales's attorney, George J. 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 rein 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.
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.
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 latest seven indictments had been signed by Presiding Judge J. Manuel Bañales of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region.
Last month, Bañales, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry (R), dismissed indictments that charged Guerra with extorting money from a bail bond company and using his office for personal business. An appeals court had earlier ruled that a special prosecutor was appointed improperly to investigate Guerra.