Friday, August 31, 2007

VitaPro, Again

From Grits' perspective, the VitaPro corruption scandal was a case with a little bit of everything: Corruption at the highest levels of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, bribery, and an allegedly mendacious informant. Indeed, it doesn't seem like that long ago that then-TDCJ Executive Director Andy Collins was accused of bribe-taking in a scandal that, for a time, shook Texas' prison system to its core but unfortunately did not result in lasting reform.

Now we'll get to re-live the sordid tale, says the Houston Chronicle ("New trial in VitaPro bribery case ordered," Aug. 28), since the Fifth Circuit upheld an order by a Houston district judge for a new trial. Reported the paper:
In 2001, a federal jury found that Barry paid two $10,000 bribes to Collins for pushing a no-bid contract with VitaPro to feed its product to Texas prisoners. At the time, Collins was executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Barry owns VitaPro, the maker of a soy-based meat alternative.

The pair were convicted on bribery, conspiracy and money-laundering charges during a tumultuous trial that featured Patrick Graham, a government informant who was a key witness in the prosecution of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz on corruption charges.

In September 2005, Hughes threw out the guilty verdicts, finding that Graham lied. In its July decision, the 5th Circuit said: "The jury was presented with substantial evidence of Graham's poor character and was made aware of the contradictions in his testimony, but still the jury found that the government had proven Collins and Barry guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. ... The district court erred in substituting its own judgment for that of the jury to conclude that Graham's testimony should be disregarded."
I'd not begun Grits yet when VitaPro came down the first time around, but given the confluence of subjects I'm interested in, you can bet I'll be paying attention to the retrial.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is exciting. Now we will have an opportunity to see all of the ways that the current Texas Public Safety Commissioner, Allen Polunsky, was described as a suspect in these crimes by DPS - the agency that Governor Perry appointed him, this year, to oversee!

He was in charge of TDCJ at the time.

I'm looking forward to all of the details on this one ...

Pro Hawk said...

One of the strangest parts of the appeal (which the 5th Circuit did not address) is that the court reporter in the case had some sort of nervous breakdown during the trial. Nobody knew it, and the record incomplete and riddled with errors that made a proper appeal on the merits arguably impossible. Wierd.

Also, the only reason that the government could appeal the judge's judgment of acquital was because it was issued post verdict. If Barry and Collins go for a bench trial this time around, and the judge grants a judgment of acquital at the close of the government's evidence (presumably the same evidence as last time), it probably won't be appealable because of double jeopary issues and the structure of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure. Cool, huh?

Anonymous said...

Will Janie T be dusting off her old notes and testify again? Will Allen Polunsky be called this time?

Will Berry be returning to the States?

I have so many more questions but I have waited this long for justice; I guess I can wait a little longer for the answers.

Anonymous said...

Was this while BUSH was head of the THRONE?

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